Morning Ed: Society {2018.03.19.M}


Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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212 Responses

  1. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    So7: I can’t speak to the women should embrace modesty thing because I am a guy. But I am always amazed about how many people think that paying attention to clothing is not serious. You can care about academics and aesthetics. Clothing is interesting! It is like art you can wear when done well.

    So8: Gray can be nice but it shouldn’t be everything.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      Many people approach clothing how the food is fuel people see food, they see it as strictly utilitarian. They might good looking clothing but their primary thought is does this keep me warm or cool, protected, and comfortable and is it appropriate for the task at hand. Caring about how good looking clothing might be is seen as vain and frivolous.Report

      • I tend to take this more utilitarian approach, via all the criteria you mention (warmth, comfort, etc.). I’m fortunate to work in a profession/job that has a tolerant dress code. When I was a teller, and had to wear a suit and tie, it was extremely uncomfortable and constricting. (Perhaps there was a middle way. Maybe some shirt + tie ensembles are more comfortable than others.) I prefer loose-fitting clothes. I buy the extra large when I could probably wear a medium. I’ve been told the medium looks much better on me, but I like the way the extra large feels.

        However, I have to also agree with I imagine to be Saul and some others’ counterargument, which is that I, too, make fashion choices and am not as utilitarian as I think/like to claim. I may have, say, five shirts that meet my utilitarian standards, yet I like one or two more than the rest because of the way they look and the way I think they make me look. I actually look forward to the days when I wear them, and try as often as possible to wear them on Thursdays and Fridays, which are my favorite days of the workweek.Report

    • Avatar dragonfrog says:

      [So7] Don’t worry, that article wasn’t addressed to the young women the writer thinks should cover up their own bodies more. It’s addressed to people who are unsure about critiquing other people over how they cover their bodies.

      It’s possible, of course, to look and feel fabulous without putting one’s body on display, a concept that seems to have escaped much of Winter’s generation.

      That’s not aimed at persuading members of “Winter’s generation” of anything. It’s aimed at emboldening those a generation or more older to scold young women and make them feel bad about how they’re dressed.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

        Well we shouldn’t do that either. But the modesty scolds are always going to be among us more generously.

        I still think my general observation holds true. But I’ve also been told in the United States that I can code as gay for some of my clothing choices. But in Asia, this distinction would not be made. When I was in Singapore last December, I bought a shirt by a Japanese clothing designer named Tsumori Chisato*. It was a gray button down but had paint tubes on it as a print. In the United States, the shirt codes as gay but in Asia apparently it doesn’t.

        Lots of American guys also have issues with dressing and scold differences.Report

  2. Avatar Michael Cain says:

    So5: The NIFC (National Interagency Fire Center) says that wildfire numbers before 1983 are subject to large reporting errors. The time series for reported fires is illustrative. The decline in acres burned can almost certainly be attributed to better detection, and increasing use of heavy machinery and air drops in fire fighting.

    Smokey is the mascot for one of the most misguided land use policies in American history: total fire suppression in forests in the American West. To stick with the forests I’m most familiar with, Colorado’s national forests are hideously sick as a result of the policy. Huge accumulations of ground fuel, gross overcrowding, and stunted size. Those conditions, combined with the disappearance of extreme cold spells in the mountains, have produced an epidemic of various pine/bark beetles. Colorado has over two million acres of beetle-killed timber that’s all going to eventually burn.Report

  3. Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

    So6: I love the use of a compression algorithm to explore repetition. It makes the point and educates the layperson on a bit of computer science.

    So9: I enjoy cooking, but when I want to. I’m with the author, just because I have the skill doesn’t mean I want to use it for every meal. And when it comes to eating out, sometimes it doesn’t matter how ‘easy’ it is to make at home, I want someone else’s take on the dish.Report

  4. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    So1: What is interesting is how Western parents seem to care more about what goes into children’s entertainment than Japanese parents. There are some moral panics regarding the sexual and violent content of anime, manga, and video games aimed at children and teenagers in Japan but much less than what goes on in Western countries. The amount of editing that an anime aimed at the elementary school set in Japan like Naruto or Sailor Moon needs to go through to make it acceptable for television in the West is very high. Some of it like Inuyasha is just aired at a much older audience outside Japan than in it.

    So2: Semi-related thought, its really hard to determine how acceptable being nerdy or having geeky hobbies is today. My parents are early boomers and still see nerdy as something bad because even though the term was young during their adolescence, nobody in their right mind wanted to be labelled a nerd. These days being nerdy or having geeky hobbies seems more socially acceptable with Comic Con being big business and all but you still have many nerds and geeks complaining about being socially ostracized in high school or beyond.

    So3: Cosplay morally irritates me. This is one of the forms of fun that I just can’t get into and don’t like because they are re-enacting a fantasy version of the past rather than recognizing the past as it was. It seems dangerous even though it is probably harmless. There are lots of cosplayers that cosplay things much more pernicious than Jane Austen like Axis cosplayers.

    So7: I am going to go out on a limb and say that more women would like to be seen as attractive in addition to whatever other trait they have than not. The same is true for men even though the media pays less attention to male hotness and the bar might be higher. If you go on a site about dating, you can easily find a lot of men gripping about the infamous OkCupid study where only twenty percent of all men were labelled good looking and everybody else was deemed bellow average. The few times I’ve been complimented on my looks was a real ego-booster.Report

    • Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

      So3: I am more sympathetic to cosplay. I was active in the SCA, after all, for about twenty years. But you are certainly right about its being a fantasy version. The SCA even quasi-officially recognizes this with the catch phrase “The Middle Ages as they should have been.” This carries its own boxcar of baggage, but at least it acknowledges that the nasty bits (however defined) existed.

      There is a 19th century baseball version of this, usually known as “vintage base ball” with guys wearing quaint uniforms and playing under obsolete rules. When I switched my primary hobby interest to 19th century baseball, I made a conscious decision not to get into the vintage side of things because I inevitably would be That Guy explaining to everyone what they were doing wrong. I have softened my stance in that some vintage players are serious about authenticity and seem to genuinely want an informed outsider’s perspective. I go to a tournament held every year at Gettysburg, which is an easy day trip for me, and hang out with those guys.

      As for the Jane Austen crowd, the article makes it seem like an SF con, but for Jane Austen fans, with a smattering of academics doing it for fun. I don’t see any downside, but this is something different from an academic conference.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        I wouldn’t go around complaining about people doing it wrong or spoil there fun. Thats just bad manners. Yet, when I was really into anime and went to conventions cosplay really bothered me for some reason. Its one of the things that drove me away from fandom.Report

        • Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

          The thing is, I’m not a purist by any stretch–what in the SCA we sometimes called a “seam checker,” hunting for machine stitching. Some compromises are necessary, and others not strictly necessary, but desirable nonetheless. The discussion I aim to have, on those occasions I have the discussion at all, is to think about what compromises we make and why, and to admit to them freely. Some of them understand this conversation.Report

      • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

        Steampunk art and fiction it is more explicit, where the delight is in reworking the Victorian era into something new and interesting.

        Sometimes it is all about a sci-fi fantasy of rayguns, but other times such as the graphic novel Lantern City it fully explores the way that the Victorian era was actually quite grim and unpleasant for anyone not wealthy and entitled.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

      I wonder if nerdom is more acceptable these days because of the counter-culture. The beatniks and the Boomers will rebelling against the drab conformity of the 1950s and 60s. They were rebelling against formality, dowdiness, corporatism, etc.

      And I am not sure how to complete this thought.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        We have seen the counter-culture become the culture before.

        We went from Lenny Bruce being arrested for obscenity in 1962 to George Carlin releasing his “Seven Words” bit in 1972 to George Carlin being on The Midnight Special in 1973.

        1960’s Hippie Culture slowly evolved into 1970’s Hippie Culture into 1980’s Hippie Culture.

        And the less said about “Woodstock ’99”, the better.Report

      • Avatar Aaron David says:

        Jaybird is halfway there. The counter-culture became the culture, while the love/revolution generation now runs everything, from teachers to universities, government to entertainment. They are the man now.

        Now the new counter-culture is reacting to that man. This has always happened, the pendulum swings back and forth.

        Again, was Lenny Bruce a troll, or a shit-poster?Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          If you’ve ever wondered what Lenny Bruce was arrested for, have I got an album for you!


        • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

          So is nerd culture a counter-culture that has become mainstream?

          Counter-culture is something that is very hard to define to begin with. Wayne Thiebaud, Richard Diebenkorn, Robert Rauchsberg, etc. were not exactly I Love Lucy but they became successful relatively early in their careers and were always given cultural cache among the highest echelons.

          The Who and the Dead might have shocked the Lawrence Welk set but they always sold a good number of records and made tons of money. Maybe the Who more than the Dead. The Dead always had a huge live following.

          Likewise, comic books and Star Wars were always part of the mass-market even if known as nerd hobbies. D&D was well known enough to get a Saturday Morning Cartoon and many video game adaptations before the current geek craze.

          What I would argue about the rise of geek culture seems more sociological than uncool is now cool. The thing I keep looking at and trying to understand (but failing) is that a large segment of my generation seems to have firmly stopped their cultural interests and growths at sometime between 5th and 8th grade. Nostalgia seems to rule hard and fast among a huge number of people born in 1975 or after.

          The Boomers, for better or for worse, seemed to want to create a new culture of their own and move beyond their elementary school entertainments. The music and literature and film scenes of the mid-60s to 1970 something reflects this.

          But the post 1975-set seems to be more into “Let’s keep on talking about how awesome Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Voltron, and G.I. Joe are.”

          Maybe part of this is envy and the grass is greener. I don’t really care about the Dead but I do think it would be nice for there to be a cultural cache for going to Truffaut, Bergman, Kurosawa, Rohemer, etc. movies. What is the 2018 equivalent of this anyway?Report

          • Avatar Aaron David says:

            Nerd Culture is the mainstream.

            For the counter culture, look who is getting silenced. Who is getting laughed at. Who is getting punched. Who is getting arrested.

            (By the way, my son went to High School with the grandson of Wayne Thiebaud. Always called the kid a “trust fund D****”.)Report

            • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

              Is this going to become an elaborate defense of the alt-right? I think feelings of prosecution are very different from actually being prosecuted. And if there is anything the right-wing is really good at, it is feeling prosecuted and developing martyr complexes.Report

              • Avatar Aaron David says:

                This isn’t a defense of any Alt, nor is it a celebration of our current culture. I am simply saying that THAT is the counter-culture right now. Like it or not. Many people hated the sixties counter-culture, thought it was destructive, nihilistic, anti-whatever. And yet, here we are.

                Just because we don’t like a trend, doesn’t mean it isn’t a trend.Report

              • I think feelings of prosecution are very different from actually being prosecuted.

                I guess it depends on whether the district attorney has obtained an indictment.

                ETA: Of course, I know that’s not the word that was meant. And the statement is probably true, or has a lot of truth to it. I could name a lot* of fairly affluent, professional people who live in what are considered highly desirable areas and yet still speak as if they’re being persecuted.

                *By “a lot” I mean a number more than 1 but indeterminate enough that I don’t have to provide any evidence to demonstrate I’m right.Report

            • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

              Also the grandson’s attitudes don’t reflect on the art.Report

            • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

              I guess we should probably clarify which cultures are doing this or that, when and where.

              When discussions like this occur, we bandy about thumbnail descriptions of generations, flattening and foreshortening the vast differences within generational cohorts by ethnic and regional cultures.

              I’m thinking of the way we commonly imagine the Boomers in the 60s as all being hippies when the hippies were actually only a part of that generation, and even then, they came in many flavors and colors.

              I remember watching the movie Cooley High, about a group of teens in 1964. I just assumed the soundtrack would be filled with Beatles and Beach Boys tunes. I was shocked and disoriented when there was none of that, and only Motown songs…because the teens in question were black, from Detroit. The Beatles and Beach Boys were largely irrelevant to their life, the movie was saying. My description of the teens I witnessed in the 1960s would be radically different from the Cooley High kids.

              This isn’t a criticism- I mean, we really are able to only speak from our own lived experience.

              But the answer to a question like “…who is getting silenced. Who is getting laughed at. Who is getting punched. Who is getting arrested.” well, that sort of depends on where you are at, and who you are.Report

              • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

                In his often derided documentary on Jazz, there was a Jazz singer in the early or mid 1960s who opined that the Beatles were a conspiracy against black music especially Jazz. At the time, Jazz is what you listened to if you wanted to be perceived as cool and urbane. It was also going into real experimental territory at the time.

                But this is a good point, it is also when music began to segment culturally and socially. By the end of the 1960s, Jimi Hendrix was an outlier among rock stars for being black. The paths largely diverged.Report

              • Avatar LeeEsq says:

                During the 1950s and early 1960s in Europe, working class teens were really into rock while teens from educated, middle to upper class families, preferred jazz. At least that’s what I gather from histories I’ve read. It took until the mid-1960s for rock to become the listening music of teens across class in Europe.Report

            • Avatar greginak says:

              There are a lot of groups that could claim to be arrested, punched and laughed at. If the alt right, POC and transpeople all fall into that category i’m not sure that actually defines a counter culture. Heck i’ve heard a ton of invective aimed at Bronies, does that make them a counter culture.Report

              • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

                Broonies might count as a true counter-culture.Report

              • Avatar Maribou says:

                @greginak I would say those are all subcultures with a counter-culture aspect, yes. There is not one “counter-culture” any more than, contra _Hair_, there was a single counter-culture in the 60s.

                Also Bronies, from my limited exposure, are doing something really interesting wrt valuing “feminine” characteristics for generally masculine people, that in 30 years or more, people may see as part of the leading edge of something in the way that the hippies were.

                Or at least I *hope* that Bronies, and not the alt-right, are what those folks end up looking back on fondly about this time period.Report

              • Avatar Maribou says:

                Er, where those future folks are, of course, the ones with the comfort to be looking back on the historical record. I can only imagine that if were to be the alt-right, there’d be LOTS of people who felt differently, they/we just would be too busy surviving for such things.Report

              • Avatar greginak says:

                I think sub culture is a better term then counter culture. There are always sub cultures but they aren’t a relatively cohesive, easily defined opposition to the primary culture. I don’t think we have a primary culture to even run counter to in the same way that existed in the 50’s into the 60’s. A counter culture seems a more specific and easily identified type of a sub culture. I’m not really seeing a counter culture now while we have plenty of sub cultures.

                Bronies are interesting. I had only heard the name for years but never knew anything about them. I was traveling in Arizona and got stuck behind a guy at a quik e mart who was ranting about Bronies to the clerk. I watched some vids and read up a bit and , while i get why many people see them as weird, they seem like a cool, positive group.Report

              • Avatar LeeEsq says:

                Many Bronies, especially the young ones, seem to be part of the Alt-Right or at least have sympathies in that direction. From what I can tell, more than a few of them are attracted to MLP for somewhat questionable reasons.

                I have a hard time seeing many of the subcultures these days as true subcultures because they mainly exist on the Internet. I think that being a true subculture involves being part of meat space and really living differently from most people like true Hippies or the LGBT scene during the mid to late 20th century. Living an ordinary life but having legal but off color entertainment choices and talking about it online does not a subculture make. Furries or the polyamory community are a definite subculture though because they live differently in meat space.Report

              • Avatar Maribou says:

                @leeesq That is disturbing and not something that was previously part of their culture. From a strategic point of view, it seems like an intelligent target for the alt-right to infiltrate :(. Lots of young, lonely, mostly-white men. Blech.

                The bronies I was previously familiar with do actually live quite differently in real life, trying to uphold the “brony code” which involves very non-masculine-by-mainstream-standards values. Quite a few young trans kids of various identities in that particular subculture.

                Bah. Stupid alt-right stupiding everything.Report

              • Avatar LeeEsq says:

                The Alt-Right like any effective extremist political group knows where to find troops and how to prey on the lonely.Report

              • Avatar LeeEsq says:

                My personal opinion of Bronies is that I have a very hard time putting my finger on them. To a large extent I see their embrace of MLP as a failure to grow up just as much as a rejection of traditional masculinity. And there is a part of my that is wary of adults attracted to kid’s shows like this.Report

              • Avatar dragonfrog says:

                It’s a pretty good show, as these things go – it’s got good writing, good characters, original musical numbers in just about every episode.

                I don’t see anything significantly weirder about adult fans of MLP than I do about adult fans of Star Trek or Coronation Street or Doctor Who or whatever.

                Now if they were adult fans of Dora the Explorer – that would be weird.Report

              • I got to say I’d never heard of bronies until this sub-thread. I looked it up on Urban Dictionary, and I guess I don’t get it. But I’m sure it’s more complicated than “adult guys who like ‘My Little Pony.'”Report

              • Avatar veronica d says:

                Nostalgebraist captures the brony-incel-alt-right connection here:

                Specifically, the depictions are distinguished by their friendly and non-threatening (verging on utopian and/or childlike) quality, and by their focus on either friendship or sentimentalized monogamy as opposed to the chaos and hookups of “the dating world.” I’m thinking, here, of MLP [My Little Pony] and the kind of anime that produce the most “waifus.” Someone I follow on tumblr once joked that the appeal of MLP was as a “being-friends-with-girls simulator,” and I think he’s probably right, with the word “friends” playing a surprisingly significant role: for this audience, it’s a simulator for “normal, human” interactions with girls which are not tainted by a constant awareness that one ought to be as masculine as possible, or by the sense that the girls are all evaluating you on this alien(ating) principle of “the more masculine the better, even to extremes.” The sense that all real women are like that causes these men to develop arbitrarily harsh levels of misogyny in the real-life sphere (“3D” in otaku parlance) while simultaneously maintaining a fantasy sphere centered around women doing mundane personal activities that have nothing to do with sex (something the traditional macho misogynist would have no patience for).


              • Avatar Maribou says:

                @veronica-d I’m not saying it’s not a real thing – once Lee pointed it out googling took about 3 seconds – merely that it’s something that *became* a thing (ime) rather than having been a thing back when I was paying attention, like around 2011 or so. Mind you, my awareness was always pretty second-hand, but the Bronies I was acquainted with don’t fit that description at all. Nor do the women I know who were also part of the fandom.Report

              • Avatar veronica d says:

                @maribou — I suppose there are bronies and then there are bronies. One of my, after all, was an ex-bronie turned trans porn performer, so it’s clearly a varied group.Report

              • Avatar veronica d says:

                Let me add, I doubt the average brony type is going to end up wearing a white polo and marching with a tiki torch. The connection between these guys and the “alt right” (in terms of Trumpism) is probably pretty weak. That said, their culture has a strong undercurrent of sexual dysfunction, misogyny, and pedophilia. It’s gross.

                That said, it is a cool show. There is nothing inherently wrong with a grown man enjoying a cute show aimed at young girls. The problem arises on a cultural level.Report

              • Avatar Maribou says:

                @veronica-d Yeah, I get that more now. The people I know were mostly young (under 20), and not creepy … I dunno, maybe it’s a bit like conculture. As you said, bronies and bronies.Report

              • Avatar LeeEsq says:

                There is an issue on whether adult men can enjoy a cute show aimed at young girls without issues of sexual dysfunction, misogyny, and pedophilia showing up. You can make a good faith argument that adults attracted to entertainment meant for young children or teenagers have failed to grow up and mature in many ways. It is a complicated issue.Report

              • Avatar Maribou says:


                If only it were so easy to mark out the misogynists and pedophiles, as to find the folks who seem, according to someone else’s judgment of their tastes in entertainment, to have a maturity problem. Sadly those particular bad agents show up in all aesthetic echelons.

                I’m getting really sick of the “people who like Voltron are arguably morally flawed” argument, frankly. Usually you’re not the one making it. And that’s not where you started here…Report

              • Avatar dragonfrog says:

                I guess it depends what you mean by “issues of sexual dysfunction, misogyny, and pedophilia showing up.”

                In the sense of, in a sufficiently large group of men there will be some who display those issues, and is more prevalent among adult fans of TV shows aimed at kids than it is in gen pop – I’ll buy that for a dollar.

                In the sense of, any individual man who enjoys a well made show despite having a whole extra digit on his age compared to the target audience is highly likely to have such issues – that I have a hard time accepting.

                I mean, I enjoy silly humour. The Dirk Gently miniseries did a great job of that. MLP does a great job of that.

                (FWIW I’d say that the current 2010s run of MLP is aimed at kids generally. They’re conscious to give girls active story-driving characters to like and identify with, but it’s not aimed at girls only, in the way that the godawful 1980s series was)Report

              • Avatar veronica d says:

                @dragonfrog — It’s less about the probability that a random man will be predatory and more the probability that a random girl on an internet forum for MLP will encounter such. Can a young girl safely search for “my little pony” on Tumblr without seeing pony-porn?

                Furthermore, there are issues outside just the pedo stuff, such as, can a young girl actually collect MLP toys when the price points are driven by a group of relatively affluent and obsessive men? Again, this can’t be understood by looking at the behavior of a single man, but instead it is understood by looking at what happens to the culture-space.

                These men are not just observers of the show. They also shape the culture around the show. If a disproportionate number are obsessive and have a strangely sexualized relationship with children (and ponies!), then that culture will be (shall we say) stilted.

                Question: why can’t girls just have their own things?Report

              • Avatar Maribou says:

                At this point I feel the need to state that there are also a lot of women who have weird, sexualized relationships with My Little Pony.

                A LOT.

                Far fewer than the number of women who just enjoy it for whatever reasons as collectors and whatnot, and even fewer than the ones who just enjoy sharing something with their kids/kid-adjacents that they enjoyed when they were kids and/or enjoy spending time with the part of themselves that enjoyed that stuff when they were kids.

                But I’m pretty sure there are more of them, taken as a whole, than Bronies, it’s just that 1) no one puts a derogatory label on it, 2) none of them are, to the best of my knowledge, organizing to be gross racist assholes who are trying to take over fandom (I suspect 2 is more important than 1, but.) Along with, perhaps, 3, women just aren’t as interesting to media as men are. It’s not that they’re being secretive.

                Like I had come across dozens of these women long before I’d heard of Bronies. Before MLP even came back on the air, they were clogging up the internet and shaping the culture around My Little Ponies. Just trying to find some MLP stuff for my nieces, back in the early 2000s, I kept happening upon them. One could perhaps argue that they were men pretending to be women for the sake of whatever, but I really fishing hate that claim and I don’t think it is true in this particular case, either.

                So I really think on some level it’s “why can’t kids just have their own things?” if you want to make that argument in the first place (i lean different ways depending on the day). This isn’t men screwing things up for little girls.

                And lord knows I’m the first person to overreact to that particular dynamic. but this one was weird and twisted long before Bronies became a thing. (not shaming anyone who is actually into pony play in some restrained, responsible, aware that little kids don’t need to be screwed up by MLP porn way, here. just the jerks. who are not, in my assessment, in this corner of jerkdom, predominantly male.)Report

              • Avatar dragonfrog says:

                Hm, so a kind of collective failure to recognize that as adults they’re the guests in this particular culture space and should be careful lest the space reshape itself around their interests.

                I can see that.

                I had not realized there was a lot of MLP themed porn without an attendant culture of keeping it out of general MLP themed spaces that should be, if not just for kids, then at least fully safe for kids. But why should it surprise me. Eugh.Report

              • Avatar LeeEsq says:

                Besides Veronica’s neat summation and your neat summizing of her summation, there is something off about adults being into children’s things beyond my kids, nieces, and nephews are into this so I should be a bit interested as good parent, aunt, or uncle.

                Even without the issues that Veronica laid out, people who get very obsessive about a certain piece of culture often seem to be lacking in their lives and they use the cultural piece to make up for what is missing and to avoid dealing with the problems in more direct way.Report

              • Avatar Will H. says:

                That encapsulates what I think of bloggers very well.Report

              • Avatar veronica d says:

                @leeesq — How is this different from a hobby though? If someone is “into” a bit of culture, enough that they perhaps join a forum to talk about it, and perhaps create “fanfic” (or whatever), how is that fundamentally different from being into opera, photography, classical music, or sports?

                Or math?

                People are “into” stuff. That seems fine to me. Being into “stuff for little girls,” and then sexualizing it, that seems rather different from being a “comics fan.”Report

              • Avatar North says:

                I think what we may be dealing with is that thanks to the internet our current era has an enormous number of “cultures” that have formed as compared to earlier eras. This includes the previous cultures which the internet now allows to sustain themselves.Report

              • Avatar Will H. says:

                Not so sure here.
                I’m more inclined to believe that people have been people all along.
                I think the greater connectivity has increased the awareness and accessibility of the range of Otherness out there, but it has always been with us.Report

              • Avatar Aaron David says:

                Well, to repair my lost comment…

                If a group is supported by a mainstream organization, such as the NCAA or NFL, they aren’t counter-culture, they are mainstream culture. If people are being fired for merely associating with some, that is a counter-culture. Definitionally.

                Stating that is not to give support for these movements, simply to recognize them for what they are.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                The wacky thing about the counter-culture becoming the dominant culture:

                To call something “counter-culture” now is to INSTANTLY give it some small amount of credibility.

                It’s rebellious! It goes against the norms! It totally offends the people who run things! It’s totally transgressive! Prudes will *HATE* it!Report

              • Avatar Will H. says:

                There is something substantial there, but it takes a bit of digging.
                I had approached much the same things a few weeks back from the view of public interest groups. There weren’t a lot of them around in the 70’s, but there are now. Something has changed.

                To cut to the chase, I think it’s symptomatic that the System just isn’t working for a lot of people.
                For some reason, it’s easier for people to buy in to that they are being treated unfairly due to membership of some group they identify with, or that others identify them as being part of, rather than to consider there might be something inherently skewed in the System.
                So, the procedure now is to distort, rather than reshape, the System. I don’t see that working out well. It’s not a viable solution.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                In the short term, however, it’s an opiate.Report

              • Avatar greginak says:

                People are fired for all sorts of reasons including support Obama. I think your definition is far to broad and amorphous. I bet i could find BLM supporters who have been fired or cant’ get hired. There is research showing stereotypically black names makes it harder to get hired.

                I don’t’ think our culture has a clear primary culture and every sub culture is not a counter culture.Report

            • Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

              My take on “nerd” is that to be a nerd is to be too interested in some subject, or interested in the wrong aspect of it. Too interested, or wrong aspect, compared to what? To some ineffable cultural mainstream. What is too much, or the wrong way, depends on the topic, and it can change over time.

              By way of example, there was a day when it was perfectly mainstream for a ten year old boy to have baseball players’ statistics memorized. That would be very nerdy, today. This is not because of the decline or baseball, or anything like that. Memorizing football or basketball stats would be weird, too.

              It is mainstream to be familiar with Star Trek, and even more so with Star Wars. It is nerdy to be familiar with the non-canonical ST novels or the SW expanded universe.

              When we talk about Nerd Culture being mainstream, what we really mean is that certain strictly delineated aspects of what was once nerdy have gone mainstream. It is not a universal, or even particularly broad phenomenon.Report

              • Avatar Aaron David says:

                I would say spot on with that whole comment. And that too much/wrong way can change in a heartbeat.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Patton Oswalt has a movie called “Big Fan” that looks at this sort of thing from the perspective of sports.

                It’s not just a hobby, it’s an identity.

                Everybody likes Star Wars. But to *IDENTIFY* as someone who likes Star Wars is another thing entirely.Report

              • Like Aaron, I sign on to your definition, but I’d like to add an addendum. When I was growing up, “nerd” also connoted a high, unacceptable degree of social awkwardness.Report

          • Avatar Kolohe says:

            Saul Degraw: The Boomers, for better or for worse, seemed to want to create a new culture of their own and move beyond their elementary school entertainments. The music and literature and film scenes of the mid-60s to 1970 something reflects this.

            The thing is they weren’t the first ones to do this. They were just the first ones to do this on television.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        I don’t think so. Nerdom didn’t really become acceptable or cool until the early Aughts, about the same time business people realized there was big money to be made and a bunch of other stuff happened. It remained questionable as late as the late 90s and was definitely seen as bad during the years after the counter-culture. There wouldn’t be a mild moral panic over D&D otherwise. If the Counter Culture made nerdom more respectable, it took its time to do so.Report

  5. Avatar Chip Daniels says:

    This reads a bit like Somebody Else Is Living Wrong.
    The idea that other people find pleasure and fulfillment in things she doesn’t, baffles and infuriates her.

    It doesn’t help that she writes with the language of affluent entitlement, referencing exotic Thai soup as her centerpiece, or framing her vision of a just world entirely in terms of the aesthetic pleasure of the individual.

    For instance, she uses the leftist vocabulary of “proletariat”, yet the image of proletarians eating all their meals at restaurants or “trotting the world” is farcical.Report

    • Avatar Aaron David says:

      Chip nails it. I hate cooking, considering it the greatest drudgery, while I actually like cleaning. But my wife is the exact opposite. Makes for a great relationship. But more importantly, we are both happy in this. Nothing would take the cooking away from C. and when we go to a white table cloth restaurant, she only orders things she can’t make at home. And she can make a lot of things (she was a personal chef for a while.) As she likes baking, we never get dessert, instead linger over whiskey. All of that to say, she would rather eat her own cooking most of the time, as she is someone who cares, deeply, about food.Report

    • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

      I felt her complaint was more towards the people telling her she was having fun wrong by not cooking the soup herself*. She asks for a restaurant recommendation & gets a barrage of people telling her she is doing it wrong.

      And then she just went on a rant.

      * See also: mommy shamingReport

      • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

        I suppose that makes sense in that she may be swimming in waters where everyone is living a performative life, where dining choices and style choices and consumption choices are broadcast as part of a statement about one’s social standing.

        So on this world, “You can make this yourself!” translates as “You SHOULD make this yourself in order to be acceptable!”Report

        • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

          It kinda does translate that way.

          If I ask my social media what car service they use in a city I am going to visit soon, and I get a bunch of people telling me that the public transit is just fine and not dirty at all, or that I can totally bike it, I am going to take that as signalling on their part that my choice to use a car service is somehow wrong, especially if I didn’t bother to include an explanation as to why I want a car service*, as opposed to public transit or biking. So they not only failed to answer my question, but now I have to filter out their judgy signalling as well.

          That would be irksome.

          I mean, if you are going to engage in some judgy signalling, at least answer the question first (e.g. “I use Crown Limo, but if you want to save money, or get some exercise, the public transit system is quite nice, and the city is very bike friendly, with bike rentals all over town!”).

          *e.g. I just got off a plane, with luggage, and I have to get to a client meeting, I do not have time to figure/use out public transit, and arriving at the meeting in a sweaty suit and tie is a major fashion faux pas.Report

  6. Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

    So4: This is a remarkably overwrought exercise in throat-clearing, preparatory to a click-bait list that he doesn’t bother to come through with. It also has a distinct air of “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s always too crowded.”Report

  7. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    Thearnos and the Silicon Valley mandate of “Fake It Until You Make It.”

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      I don’t see how this was different from past bursts of entrepreneurialism. Faking it until you make it is part of American business culture or our culture in general.Report

  8. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    A look at how the suburbs hide poverty and make it harder to provide social services:

    • Avatar Kolohe says:

      I wish this piece were a little better; i.e.
      1) that one page pdf were from the 2010 census data instead of the 2000 one,
      2) they were a little more precise than just ‘most’ (if the numbers went from 45% to 55%, yeah, now ‘most’ live in the suburbs, but that’s a smaller change than what their tone indicates)
      3) Camden NJ being a ‘suburb’ means the term has no meaning, *particularly* if they are looking for holes in the governance fabric. I would give a good definition of these suburban governance holes as unincorporated but still thickly populated areas where the first level of governance is the county (which could have hundreds of thousands to millions of people in its realm).

      perhaps the full Brookings book has all this though. (not going to pay 25 bucks for it, however)Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain says:

        One of the difficulties of academic studies of the ‘burbs is that it’s not an official Census Bureau classification. The CB does defines “rural” — and used a different definition in each of the 1990, 2000, and 2010 censuses — and then lumps everything else into “urban”. Different studies get different results depending on things like the size of the blocks where they do classification (census blocks, zip code areas, etc) and the criteria they use for suburban. One dividing line I have seen is 2200 households per square mile, which would put my solidly-suburban zip code area into the urban group.

        There are also large regional differences in suburban structure. Metropolitan areas in the West tend to have fewer, more populous suburbs, with much higher densities in the areas where people live than the other parts of the country.Report

  9. Avatar Jaybird says:

    So2: The biggest problem that I’ve seen with D&D is the whole issue of crappy DMs. If you’ve got a crappy DM, you’re going to have a crappy game. If you’ve got a crappy DM with people who’ve never played before, you’re likely to create crappy players.

    If you’ve got a *GOOD* DM and even merely average players? You’re going to have an awesome night.

    There are a lot of crappy DMs, though. Crappy players too.Report

    • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

      Good DMs are made by having good DMs as players, helping them learn how to run the game and keep it fun and interesting.

      During deployment, I taught my crew how to play AD&D, and once they were into it, I let them try their hand at DM. It worked because we were already a tight knit group and willing to give and take constructive criticism.Report

      • Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

        I see tabletop RPGs as being fundamentally a vehicle for socializing. Some people get together with their buddies and get wasted. Others get together and play an RPG. In this light, I think the biggest obstacle is group dynamics. If you are going to play an extended campaign, you have just committed to spending a hell of a lot of time with these people. This worked for me in college, where the gaming crowd was my primary social circle, but I have never found the right group since.Report

      • Avatar veronica d says:

        Just get your new GM to run Dogs in the Vineyard (or similar) a few times. It’s pretty easy to GM those types of games, and they build good habits.Report

        • Avatar LeeEsq says:

          I can see good money in teaching people how to DM. They could benefit from storytelling courses. If you can get a literature professor or fiction writer to team up with somebody who knows about tabletop games, solid goal. Some acting classes could also be good for DMs and players.Report

          • Avatar veronica d says:

            @leeesq — The problem with a “storytelling” approach is the last thing I want to do is play out some other person’s elaborate narrative. If they’ve already decided what the “big scenes” will be, then the temptation to railroad us through that linear plot becomes very strong.

            The approach in games like Dogs is quite different. It is about presenting morally complex situations, and then giving wide latitude to the players to explore that. This is a very different context than what emerges from a writing class.Report

            • Avatar Aaron David says:

              What I always like is the Sandbox approach. The DM creates a world and the players get to decide what is worth exploring/adventuring.

              My big gamer friends always liked Dogs in the Vineyard, but I have no experience with it. If it is about moral problems it could be very interesting (combat always bored me in RPG’s)Report

              • Avatar veronica d says:

                @aaron-david — Pick it up. It’s cheap, easy to learn, easy to run. It’s great for one-offs or micro campaigns.

                In my opinion it has the best GM advice ever. Actually, read everything Vincent Baker has written or done.Report

              • Avatar North says:

                Sandbox is great if your GM is either quick on their feet or loves pouring lots of preparation into the game world.Report

              • Avatar veronica d says:

                @north — If you haven’t read Dogs, you should do so. It is “sandbox” in a sense, but it has a structure that makes that pretty easy to run.

                Note that the game is predicated on certain shared assumptions about the scope of an adventure and the role the characters are expected to play. It’s “sandbox,” but each adventure is a small sandbox. The characters are religious enforcers who are expected to delivery spiritual justice. If your group isn’t into that, then play a different game. That said, it works.Report

  10. Avatar Doctor Jay says:

    So2: I completely endorse the idea that D&D, or more generally roleplaying, is an excellent vehicle for writing.

    Ta-Nehisi Coates has said that D&D is what first gave him the idea that writing can create worlds on its own. In The Beautiful Struggle he credits playing D&D with his brother as formative.

    John Rogers mentions (in the Tabletop episode where he plays a FATE game) that they played FATE as a way to flesh out most of the characters in his show The Librarians Rogers has contributed to various D&D books.

    Steven Sommers (director of The Mummy(1999) and Van Helsing) plays D&D.

    Roleplaying is also a great place to practice the craft of acting, which is related to writing, though not the same as it.

    Vin Diesel got started with acting playing D&D. He tells the story of talking D&D with Karl Urban while on the set of Reddick, and having Judy Densch come by and tell them about the game she runs for her grandchildren. I want to play in Judy Densch’s game. That would be awesome.

    D&D also has these really dumb kids doing really dumb things, but that’s life isn’t it? I was a dumb kid once.Report

  11. Avatar Doctor Jay says:

    [So7] I’m searching for a way to respond to Ashley McGuire that isn’t rude. Her complaint falls on me much the way “AllLivesMatter” as a response to “BlackLivesMatter” does.

    But let me explain that: I think everyone deserves to feel like someone cares about their situation, and white people can have a very strange experience where the world is skewed to their benefit AND they never have the experience of anyone actually caring about them. I understand “Black Lives Matter” to highlight the truth that many social structures seem to hold black lives have less value than white ones.

    I think “ordinary size” women have many issues with body image, not just plus size women. And yet, they have an advantage – an advantage that includes being paid more and having a richer social life. Which is why the plus-size women aren’t all that interested in them. This is how oppression divides people.

    Ignoring this problem – not talking about it – is not going to make it go away.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      Once we upload ourselves for the singularity, we will look back at bodies the way we look back now at people who still drive places instead of telecommuting and getting everything delivered to their homes.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:

      “Sure, the world is good for white people, but what’s that got to do with me?” says Bob, a white person who self identifies with about two dozen other descriptors before getting to white.

      I hadn’t thought about it in this way but this does indeed seem both real and like something we need to address with more than, “GET WITH IT, BOB!”Report

    • Avatar Dave says:


      The title of the article is off-putting for sure, and I think it’s a safe bet to assume that the author doesn’t recognize body positivity’s roots in fat acceptance (and maybe to a lesser extent eating disorder communities). If she did, she’d probably understand why, as you put it, “plus-size women aren’t all that interested in them”, at least I’d hope.

      On one hand, I can understand the use of BLM as a comparison given the social and cultural structures that contribute to systemic weight stigma, fat shaming, discrimination and fat people being treated like shit in general. You’ll get no disagreement from me there. I see it all the time, and being in the fitness world, the fat hatred I see from former fat people blows my mind. Thin privilege? Yeah, I can agree with that, especially given that mind is the ability hold a “body neutrality” position because I’ve never been judged based on my body. Again, we have common ground here.

      Where do we go from here though?

      Do you think people that don’t have eating disorder backgrounds and can differentiate between sustainable intentional weight loss and shitty diets are going to sign on to any opposing intentional weight loss.

      Do you think that people that would never tell anyone what to do with their bodies, morally judge people or shame them yet recognize the mountain of evidence linking high percentages of body fat to a litany of health risks will buy the pseudoscience if not outright science denialism coming out of Health at Every Size, especially people like Linda Bacon? Not a chance.

      I’m happy to confront all the problems that need to be discussed. I’m not sure that the people on your side can do the same, which is why this conversation won’t go anywhere.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        differentiate between sustainable intentional weight loss and shitty diets

        I would like to hear about this “sustainable intentional weight loss” thing, here.

        We’re talking about stuff like “change your relationship to food, exercise every other day, be like a P90x person inside, just not outside” thing, right?

        Health at Every Size

        This sort of thing is obviously a backlash to culture. Pointing at it and saying “but this backlash is crazy!” gets read as “this backlash to culture is disproportionate!”

        For what it’s worth, the backlash *IS* crazy.
        It is not disproportionate.

        I’m happy to confront all the problems that need to be discussed. I’m not sure that the people on your side can do the same, which is why this conversation won’t go anywhere.the people on your side

        This is exactly how I feel about every single subject on the freaking planet.Report

        • Avatar Michael Cain says:

          We have to change insurance plans twice this year, which has required that we change doctors (or commit to paying out-of-plan prices). I had a meet-and-greet with my new primary care provider this week. When I brought up my weight, he basically brushed it off and said that he cared much more about fitness, with more emphasis on weight/strength training. This is apparently a newish thing in the medical profession towards us “old” people.Report

  12. Avatar Kolohe says:

    So9 – if she thinks youtube makes cooking at home look ‘too easy’, she must *really* hate the Food Network.Report

  13. Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

    Off topic, but for those wondering what else block chain is good for, here is how the shipping industry is looking to use it.Report

    • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

      Be interesting to see if she stepped out in front, or if the car failed to yield. I expect the vehicle will have a trove of data for investigators to examine.Report

      • Avatar greginak says:

        Agreed though any workable self driving car had better be able to deal with normal ( read as chaotic and unpredictable) pedestrian behavior without causalities.Report

        • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

          Physics still be physics. Even the most responsive AI can only stop a car as fast as the brakes will allow.

          But unlike human pilots, we’ll be able to determine if the car recognized a person in front of it, and if so, how long it took to recognize it and react. And if not, we’ll get a real good idea why it failed to recognize (did the woman present as something other than ‘person’ to the AI).

          This one could be a very interesting failure case study (aside from the attached human tragedy).Report

          • Avatar dragonfrog says:

            That’s a good point – AI drivers mostly don’t make the same mistake twice.

            Human drivers do the same dang stupid things over and over and over – driving too fast, tailgating, driving tired, looking at their phones, last-minute lane changes, turning right while looking left to plan their merge from the slip lane, every possibly variation on the SMIDSY – over and over again.Report

        • Avatar Morat20 says:

          Hmm. Houston, about 15 years ago, got light rail downtown. And in the first few months of deployment, had a ridiculous number of train versus car collisions. (At least ridiculous by light rail standards — a few standard deviations out from normal).

          Houston hired an independent firm to assess the whole setup — track location, signage, train speeds — everything. Their conclusion? One spot could use better signage, but every damn accident was the fault of the car driver.

          Now self-driving cars are in their infancy, so for safety’s sake it should be assumed that the car was at fault and the software analyzed in depth to figure out where it went wrong.

          But damn, people are practically suicidal sometimes. They’ll wander out into traffic while texting. They’ll try to pet apex predators in the wild. They’ll eat tide pods.Report

          • Avatar Hot Cha says:

            Thing is, current legal precedent finds the driver at-fault in nearly every accident where a pedestrian is injured. “people are dumb” isn’t considered an affirmative defense.Report

            • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

              No, but if I have video evidence of a pedestrian stepping out in front me, that works.

              There is a reason dash cams are becoming crazy popular.

              Autonomous cars won’t just have dash cam footage, they’ll have every possible sensor feed (radar, lidar, ultrasound ranging, etc.).Report

            • Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

              From a personal injury law case intake perspective, considering an injured pedestrian as as potential client, I would not default to its automatically being the driver’s fault, without considering the rest of the fact set.Report

          • But damn, people are practically suicidal sometimes. They’ll wander out into traffic while texting.

            I see a lot of drivers text while driving. I suppose that makes them practically murderous.Report

            • Avatar Morat20 says:

              Well sure. Drivers are also people, which means they are just as dumb, error prone, and stupid as pedestrians. They’re just wrapped in several thousand pounds of extra mass to really drive home their mistakes.

              I’ve got no idea who is at fault — I’ve seen people step out into traffic, without looking, from behind vans and trucks (ie, even the most alert driver couldn’t see them until they were already in the path of moving vehicles). I’ve seen drivers doing everything but looking at the road.

              It being Uber, and them both rushing their self-driving stuff out pretty fast compared to everyone else, and having supposedly lost all the nifty tech they stole from Google, I wouldn’t be too surprised to find out it’s was the car’s fault. On the other hand, like I said — people are dumb, and plenty of them will wade out into traffic like their firm belief in their own right-of-way will make several thousand pounds of car stop on a dime.Report

          • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

            That piece of Slate is Slating pretty hard, but here’s a more information-oriented story:

            [Tempe police Sgt. Ronald Elcock] says Herzberg was struck immediately as she stepped on to the street outside of a crosswalk while walking a bicycle.

            If that characterization is accurate, it’s hard to see how you could pin it on the car or driver. If a pedestrian steps out right in front of you in the middle of the road, at night, there’s not much you can do. I don’t object to jaywalking as such, but if you’re going to do it, it’s on you to wait until there’s enough of a gap in traffic to do it safely.Report

            • Avatar PD Shaw says:

              how you could pin it on the car or driver.

              Two different standards: the driver is liable if negligent, the car (manufacturer) can be liable for its product even if not negligent.Report

            • Avatar Maribou says:

              “If a pedestrian steps out right in front of you in the middle of the road, at night, there’s not much you can do. ”

              I protest this claim, as a driver who has avoided hitting a pedestrian in many such situations. (I live near a college.) Often in cases where the pedestrians were outright wasted, and thus less predictable. Much depends on the speed the car is going, of course. But 40 mph is well within my “GAH AVOID DAMN KIDS AAAAA” parameters. (*knocks on wood compulsively*)

              I mean, there are some cases where it’s nearly impossible, and a person shouldn’t be held liable, but it’s also very often the case that even last-minute unavoidable collisions can be avoided given creative enough thinking on the part of the driver. (Most of the collisions around here involve the “pedestrian” actually being on a skateboard, which increases their velocity to an unavoidable level.)

              Situational awareness is important. The AI may not have sufficient situational awareness.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

                Oh, I’m quite certain the AI has considerably better situational awareness than you or I do.

                What it may lack is sufficient pattern recognition. A person walking is a recognized pattern, a person on a bike is a recognized pattern, a person walking a bike might not, depending on how she was walking the bike.

                For instance, a person holding the handlebars while walking a bike probably triggers. But if she was holding the bike by the seat and guiding it one handed (i.e. not touching the handlebars and steering by leaning), the car might have just seen a bike and failed to recognize that it wasn’t a bike crossing the street by itself. A bike moving by itself might be so outside it’s expected patterns that it wasn’t sure what to do, and by the time the person resolved in it’s vision, it was too late to stop.

                And this is something people do all the time. They are aware of something but because it doesn’t conform to a recognized pattern, it takes them extra time to figure out how to deal with it. Or the converse, something conforms too well to the expected pattern and is not seen (how camouflage works).

                Or, the woman had horrible situational awareness and stepped out in front of the car such that it just couldn’t stop fast enough (especially if she stepped out from behind something the car couldn’t see around).Report

              • Avatar Maribou says:

                @oscar-gordon I tend to look at situational awareness in outcome terms, ie if stuff happens that shouldn’t’ve, the actor lacked the amount of awareness needed. Probably drives all my ex-military friends crazy.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:


                Yes, it does.Report

              • Avatar Maribou says:

                @oscar-gordon FWIW I do understand the way military people distinguish, so I know *why* it’s so annoying.

                And yet I persist in asserting that, on a non-military basis, appropriate pattern recognition for the environment is *part* of situational awareness. Like if you are not recognizing the patterns you should be, you’re not really as aware as you think you are.

                This is what happens when cavalier biologists get a dangerous amount of jargon to play with :D.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

                Fair enough.

                That said, we don’t have enough info to judge what happened. I am sure we’ll hear more in a few weeks once investigators comb through the data.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter says:

                Situational awareness is important. The AI may not have sufficient situational awareness.

                We’ll have 30-40 thousand people die on the roads this year. The AI might have less than perfect awareness and still be a VAST improvement on human.

                The AI might even be less than perfect in ways that humans consider stupid and still be a vast improvement.Report

              • Avatar Maribou says:

                @dark-matter That is certainly true.

                My concern, insofar as I have one at this early juncture, is not so much that the AI’s flaws might be stupid as that they might be mysterious. I’d feel a lot more comfortable with “it has this one simple flaw and we need to change our pedestrian behavior to make things safer for everybody,” than “uhhhhh…. it was a one-time glitch” (or claptrap that actually translates to same). You know? The latter seems to have the potential for runaway exponential disaster in a way the former does not.Report

              • Avatar veronica d says:

                @maribou — In machine learning we (often) have to balance between two competing objectives. (Of course, we balance between many competing objectives, but here I’ll discuss two.) One is model interpretability. The second is model accuracy. In the first case, we’re interested in being able to look at a model and figure out what it is doing and why. For example, a simple “decision tree” is often pretty easy for a human to look at and figure out the wheres and whys of its operation. However, decision trees typically perform badly in terms of accuracy. They make many errors.

                More accurate models, by contrast, often are quite complex, with a lot of finely balanced variables and feedback effects, which are thus difficult to interpret. An example of the latter is a complex multi-layer neural network.

                For real-time control systems, accuracy is far more important than interpretability. For my employer, we’ve pretty much thrown all of our energies into neural network technology, since for us accuracy translates directly into profit. Likewise these types of systems seem the only credible path toward accurate real-world, real-time performance.

                But yes, these large models are difficult to understand and interpret. They surprise us. This is their strength.Report

              • Avatar Maribou says:

                @veronica-d I understand that, but I also am aware that these are arguments that are equally applicable when protecting and covering up bad, broken systems (whether deliberately or out of blind faith) as they are when rightfully explaining unpredictability of surprisingly accurate models. Because they *have been used that way*, is why I see them as equally applicable, not because they ought to be.

                I get that employers will throw all their energy into maximizing profitability, that’s what happened in the last lending bubble.

                Still, scientists, when faced with mystery, are supposed to figure out WHY the engineers are achieving such amazing mysterious accuracy, not throw up their hands and throw in with the engineers.

                Engineers, when faced with an error that causes loss of life, are supposed to do an O-ring-level investigation, not explain to layfolk they think don’t understand how it was impossible to have planned ahead for this error. (I’m not saying *at all* this was an O-ring-TYPE error, caused by suits overriding engineers – though it could be, we are talking about Uber after all – just that it should be treated as Extremely Pertinent Information rather than shrugged off as a cost of doing business.)

                Try to see my comments as those of a scientist-by-training who started reading scifi when she was six, not someone who doesn’t understand the basics of how a control system works.Report

              • Avatar veronica d says:

                @maribou — If the problem arose from bad decisions by the AI system (as opposed to mechanical flaws), then it would be more the purview of mathematicians than scientists. In other words, a neural network is nothing like an o-ring. It really doesn’t work that way. Analogies with mechanical systems, or for that matter traditional software systems, will not be apt. They cannot be. These systems are not “engineered.” Instead, they “emerge.” They are “learning systems.” We engineer the basic structure, in terms of “model selection.” Then we train them.

                This is not to say you will never find “engineering mistakes” in machine learning. Common ones include a poor use training versus validation data, along with a failure to properly navigate the bias-variance tradeoff, likewise “overiftting.” But it is very unlikely that has happened here. Instead, the answer will almost certainly be, “We didn’t foresee and train for this case.”

                The answer will be: more training, more cases.

                Or else the answer might be: this is an acceptable level of risk that will, on a global scale, be far safer than human drivers.

                Myself, I think “a hundred times safer than human drivers” would be a nice target figure. I don’t actually know what the engineers are aiming for.Report

              • Avatar Maribou says:

                @veronica-d You continue to explain things to me that I’m already aware of, by nitpicking the things I say and ignoring my overriding concerns. Try assuming I know what a neural network is and I know enough about how it works that nothing you said in this comment was novel to me.

                FWIW, this kind of response makes me think it is MORE like the O-ring situation, not less. Because more than a mechanical failure, the O-ring problem was a political / conceptual one. It took outside scientists* without a money stake in the matter to really look at the problems. Because the existing engineers *were compromised*. They knew what was wrong, they were severely worried about it, and they got overridden. Repeatedly.

                Telling someone with a biology background that there’s no room for scientists in understanding neural networks, because that’s *math* is…

                Probably I should just drop this because you’re not going to stop techsplaining it to me and I’m not managing to make my concerns heard.

                *Feynman, for example, was a theoretical physicist, which is not exactly NOT applied mathematics, and yes, I say that knowing the distinctions that professionals make between the two fields. What was needed was *not* a mechanical specialist so objecting to the comparison on those grounds is irrelevant.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

                How about we all just dial it back to, “We don’t know enough to do anything more than speculate wildly”, and let it go at that.

                One thing that I found interesting is that, in all of this, Fox News is reporting that the operator of the self driving car was a felon. I am at a loss as to how this information is even remotely relevant to the incident, but way to go Fox News for helping to make sure that felons can never reintegrate into society.Report

              • Avatar Maribou says:

                @oscar-gordon Yeah, speculating wildly was what I thought I was doing (wrt to the AI) in the first place, so I have no problem with going back to that.

                As for that other thing… wow. Thanks a lot, Fox News.Report

              • Avatar veronica d says:

                Exactly. My only point is, it is entirely plausible that no one did anything wrong, that nothing was “overlooked,” and that if the engineers say, “We cannot pinpoint the exact failure mode, other than that the AI did not recognize the condition in time,” they could very well be telling the truth.Report

              • Avatar veronica d says:

                And @maribou, please roll back the “techsplaining” thing. I actually am a professional in this field. I know what I am talking about.

                The original example of -splaining is when a random man tried to explain to Rebecca Solnit her own book. If the man had been himself a scholar of Eadweard Muybridge (the topic of the book), I expect she would have responded differently.Report

              • Avatar Maribou says:

                @veronica-d I’m sorry, I can see why that would bother you, particularly given the context.

                Can you see that to someone with a biology background, explaining to them how a neural network works by emphasising basic tenets of evolutionary neurobiology would seem to be in the *neighborhood* of -splaining, even still?

                I’d be happy to roll back to whatever your preferred verb would be for acting like someone is ignorant of things they know, that you have the context to know they know, rather than reading them charitably and considering what they’re actually saying. I’m not sure there’s a verb for that. But I’d definitely be happy to switch to it, both now and in future.Report

              • Avatar Maribou says:

                @veronica-d My original point in this discussion, in response to Brandon, was merely that ““If a pedestrian steps out right in front of you in the middle of the road, at night, there’s not much you can do. ” is inaccurate. I know it’s inaccurate because I’ve been in that situation several times, and I did things. Creative, unorthodox things that kept the pedestrian from being smushed. That I was, despite their unorthodoxicity, *taught* to understand as a possibility I should be able to find and pursue, when I was being taught to drive.

                He was speculating as to what happened, I was responding contrariwise.

                As an aside to that point, I *wondered* something. Hence the use of the conditional throughout. May. Might. These are not strong claims as to what must have happened at all.

                You responded with an avalanche of explanations that did not preclude the thing I am wondering about.

                If your only point was “it’s hard to say at this point, isn’t it?” why not say that, instead of lecturing me about basics?Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

                If a pedestrian steps out right in front of you in the middle of the road, at night, there’s not much you can do.

                But that isn’t inaccurate. There is a point where if a pedestrian steps out in front of a car, even if the recognition and response time was measured in milliseconds, the brakes just can not bring that much mass to a stop in time.

                Physics are gonna physic.*

                *Yes, that’s mine, but ya’ll can have it.Report

              • Avatar Maribou says:

                “the brakes just can not bring that much mass to a stop in time.”

                Only aiming to stop (as opposed to, for eg, split second decide the safest alternative pathway, even if it is a *safer* collision, and thus only have to deal with a fraction of the need for deceleration) would be an example of the kind of error that a human driver, or a self-driving car, might make, yes. I doubt it’s that in this case, but I could see it being something like that.

                Look, overall, the most likely thing is that someone designing the car did something mildly stupid with tragic consequences , that is obvious only in hindsight (regardless of liability, I’m sure that we’d all agree that the car designers were *not* thinking “oh well, someone might get killed but who cares,” so de facto it didn’t turn out the way they meant it to). The second most likely thing is that the pedestrian really put the car in an unwinnable situation. I expect, without further information to build my view, that those two things are approximately equally likely, close enough that I have no particular quibble with those who think the second thing is more likely than the first. I’d be surprised if it turned out there really was a deeper underlying problem with the car’s design, be it mechanical OR related to the AI.

                I just think it’s risky for us as a society, to start thinking “oh, surely that third case, of the deeper problem, is so unlikely we shouldn’t even take it seriously as a thought experiment, while jumping on either case one or case two as flags to wave in our wild speculative debate.” I’m trying to make sure we don’t, culturally, stick in a binary perspective as to what might have happened, and exclude everything else. I worry more about *society* doing that, than I do AI designers, or pace Veronica, AI trainers (I like to think of them as AI cultivators myself, because way back in the dark ages, when I was first exposed to actual research into non-animal “intelligence”, and the deliberate encouragement of same, it was in botany lab).

                The reason I worry more about social attitudes than about the trainers is because, by the nature of things, the trainers will *want* to improve and do better, so to some extent they are self-governing – but they will also have blind spots to their own flaws. In my experience, folks in this space like to make things work better for people, which is all to the good, but they also tend toward over-confidence (not saying that about anyone here, just the AI discipline as a whole, since the days of Minsky). And the systems they are cogs in, giant corps, are mostly interested in a) profits, b) PR as it relates to profits, and not interested in whether people are safer than with cars or not, let alone individual lives, except as that question leads to better outcomes for a) or b).

                It’s not like we have watchers *for* AI at this point so we can’t even really ask “who watches the watchers?”
                To me, that seems to put an extra burden on all of us – on society – to do so. As part of shifting to letting everything run on AI that can more smoothly run on AI, to make my priors as clear as I *possibly* can.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

                For me, it’s just a case of, ‘what is the most likely failure scenario?’ (Occam’s Shave Kit)

                A) Mechanical Failure
                B) Blind spot in the AI training
                C) Pedestrian tempted fate and lost
                D) Deep seated problem with the learning model

                To me, B & C are about equal, and probably co-liable. A follows close behind, and D is something of a distant third that would require more evidence to suggest that the problem is deeper down.Report

              • @maribou

                (regardless of liability, I’m sure that we’d all agree that the car designers were *not* thinking “oh well, someone might get killed but who cares,” so de facto it didn’t turn out the way they meant it to).

                I agree. Nobody wanted this to happen, especially the designers. At the same time, any serious effort to implement a system takes into account the fact that it would cause damage and that’s part of the risk management involved. If we do X, Y number of people will be harmed, and we’ll work to lower Y, but Y will 1) never be zero and 2) sometimes include people who wouldn’t have been harmed through other ways of doing things.

                I think that’s just as true in developing or maintaining a driverful car system as it is in developing or maintaining a driverless car system. In either system, or whatever hybrid we come up with, a certain number of people will be harmed. And by adopting that system, the adopters are, in some sense, saying they’re okay with it, or at least willing to accept the negative consequences.

                This is something we always do, and I don’t mean to single out supporters of driverless cars. And for all I know, the number of people harmed by driverless cars will be much lower than the number of people harmed by drivers.Report

              • Avatar George Turner says:

                The big advantage of driverless cars is that when someone is killed, which is going to frequently happen, the jury has no doubt which giant company should pay hundreds of millions of dollars to the victim’s family.

                This may impact the business model.Report

              • Avatar Maribou, Moderator says:

                @gabriel-conroy Absolutely, about the driverful car system part. I actually had a whole tangent about that typed out, about how it discomforts me that I’ve made a comfortable peace with thousands of car deaths a year, in general, and how the deaths per million miles traveled measure is BS designed to make people feel safer and etc etc…. but it honestly was such a rant that I had to delete it from my comment. You put it a lot better than I would’ve 🙂Report

              • Thanks. I thought my own comment was pretty ranty.Report

              • Avatar Hot Cha says:

                One way to handle mysterious AI flaws is to limit the mystery available to them.

                We’re all talking as though cars running people over is a horrible thing that should never ever happen under any circumstance.

                What if the response to this is to pass laws saying that drivers shall not be found at-fault in incidents involving jaywalking pedestrians?

                If the AI is no longer required to stop then we don’t have to worry about why it didn’t.Report

              • Avatar Maribou says:

                @hot-cha Until it turns out that the same reason it didn’t stop also underlaid 5 or 6 other as-yet-unrecognized problems and one of those is a giant cascading hot mess of a murderous disaster.

                (I say this with all love for self-driving cars. I *want* them, which is why I want them to work.)Report

              • Avatar dragonfrog says:

                What if the response to this is to pass laws saying that drivers shall not be found at-fault in incidents involving jaywalking pedestrians?

                This is pretty much the situation right now. If you want to kill someone, use a car – if you’re sober, at worst you’ll likely get a fine and some license demerit points. That’s if they had the right of way and the road conditions were perfect and there was no glare or poor sightlines or anything else you can blame for the accident. If they were jaywalking, or you can credibly claim the sun was shining in your eyes or something, you probably won’t even get that.

                In fact, the vast majority of people hit and injured or killed by cars, are not jaywalking, they have right of way. Point this out, and someone is likely to pop up and say “Right of way, sure, but physics says blah blah something about how pedestrians have an entitled attitude”.

                What I’d love to see is some liability coming to rest on the cities that built the roads where people are killed.

                People jaywalk in fairly predictable ways – not necessarily predictable to those driving, but predictable to the people who design our built environment. And yet our cities are full of roads designed to maximize driving speeds and avoid 30 seconds of delay to drivers, and that send people walking on several minutes long detours (producing jaywalking that’s 100% predictable to city planners, and 0% predictable to drivers who rely on the road design to tell them how fast they can safely drive), putting crosswalks right in the blind spots of high speed slip lanes, etc. etc.Report

              • Avatar dragonfrog says:

                I mean, heck, if we just want legal clarity, we could say that any person hit on foot in the street is at fault – just abolish crosswalks and pedestrian right of way anywhere ever, so the only way to have any legal expectation of safety when crossing the street is to get in a car, make a U-turn, and park again on the other side.

                If we want people not to die so much, and our cities also to be in any way livable, we’ll have to take an approach that balances significant elements of “humans make mistakes, we must build our cities so the mistakes they make are not lethal” and “with great horsepower comes great responsibility”.

                Vision Zero, if Vision Zero in North America weren’t mostly watered down pabulum, in other words.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

                People jaywalk in fairly predictable ways – not necessarily predictable to those driving, but predictable to the people who design our built environment.

                Yes, they do, and (IMHO) if they jaywalk, they relinquish any claim to having a right of way. Ergo, when you jaywalk, you assume all the risk* of that action. If you are not going to use the marked crossing, that’s fine, but you’d better be alert and quick.

                *Exception for young children.Report

              • Avatar dragonfrog says:

                I’m not sure if my response is more of a “yes and” or a “yes but”…

                From a pragmatic perspective, focusing on “they were jaywalking so it’s their fault” mostly serves to absolve the city’s engineers and planners of responsibility – focusing on saving liability payouts rather than lives.

                Is the legal crossing actually more dangerous than the illegal one? Is the legal one safer but feels more dangerous due to how it’s built? Is the process of crossing safely so frustrating that few people have the patience for it? Is the type of road drastically unsuited to the neighbourhood it runs through?

                Also, it bears repeating, they mostly weren’t jaywalking. Like over 90% of the people hit by cars in my city, were in crosswalks, walking with the lights if there were lights, etc.

                And still the public discourse blames the victim. In a city that claims to take Vision Zero seriously. It’s incredibly frustrating.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

                Also, it bears repeating, they mostly weren’t jaywalking. Like over 90% of the people hit by cars in my city, were in crosswalks, walking with the lights if there were lights, etc.

                I’ll give you that. If they are in the marked crossing and walking with the light, liability falls to the driver. Then both the driver and the pedestrian can argue a claim to the city that the intersection is badly designed, and ideally the city would look at incident data for that crossing and decide if it merited intervention or not.

                Sure, ideally human powered locomotion would be cleanly separated from motorized transportation through the use of pedestrian over/underpasses and the like, but even the most progressive of cities will need time to make those changes.

                Honestly, given how we are clearly moving toward more electric vehicles, and given how quiet those vehicles are, I suspect we’ll have more push to separate pedestrians from cars.Report

              • Avatar dragonfrog says:

                ideally human powered locomotion would be cleanly separated from motorized transportation through the use of pedestrian over/underpasses and the like

                I don’t think that’s ideal at all. For highway speed traffic, sure, yes. But outside of the few roads with such fast traffic, no, I don’t think so. It would be hellishly unpleasant to walk anywhere.

                @hot-cha At what point does a person’s risky behavior become their own fault?

                That’s a good question – if you’re mid block and 60 meters to the nearest crosswalk, the light takes 1 minute or less to turn once you get there, and the city doesn’t get very cold in winter, does the city planner deserve any blame? Probably not in most circumstances, unless there’s something else important about the location.

                If there’s a big walking path toward a university campus that’s for some reason bisected by a major road where the nearest crosswalk is 250 meters away, there’s no sidewalk for part of that detour, the crossing light takes up to 3 minutes to change, and the winters can get to -30?

                That planning department failed to plan a city for humans who actually exist. They were planning for made up humans who always follow the rules no matter how inconvenient and unpleasant. They failed at their job, and they have some liability when people get hurt there because of that failure.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

                If people are going to be that close to cars, it’s either clean divides, or some degree of acceptable loss. That, or you need to be more detailed in how you envision walk-able cities to be laid out with regard to crossings.Report

              • Avatar dragonfrog says:

                Mostly I envision the great majority of streets (on which we do a tiny minority of our driving) the ones through neighbourhoods, to be “woonerfs” – streets that communicate crystal clearly that they are places for living, on which you are permitted to drive not to get somewhere fast, but to get your car to a road on which you can drive fast.

                This is most of the mileage of streets in our cities, but we don’t drive much on them. In my city at least, it’s difficult to be more than 400 m from an arterial or feeder road. On neighbourhood streets, the driving is almost 100% between a home address and the nearest arterial, by the most direct route. Driving very slowly on such streets only adds maybe 20-40 seconds to a drive somewere.

                The speed limits on neighbourhood streets is 50 km/hr (there are campaigns to get them lowered), but in older neighbourhoods anybody with any sense drives at about 30, because that’s what actually is and feels safe. In a lot of the newer neighourhoods though, neighbourhood streets are wider, less treed, and have much wider cornering radii, so while the speed it is safe to drive is still about 30, the speed it feels safe to drive is significantly faster.

                I’d love to see them improved further so 30 seemed too fast.
                Something like this video – or any video you can find of a street scene from 1900 or 1910, like – from before the auto industry campaigns that invented “jaywalking” to transform cities into places for driving.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

                I see your meaning.

                1) Thank you for the video, it helps. And not just me. In my neighborhood, there is a street that is not technically a street, it’s a driveway. There are two rows of houses that are back to back and the ‘street’ runs between them. The ‘street’ is just how everyone gets to their garages, like a giant shared driveway that is not actually owned by the city, but by the houses along it. However, people use it as a cut through in the mornings, and the residents can’t get in or out, so they were asking for ideas on how to cut down on the people using it illegally in the mornings (since a cop can’t be there every day). I sent them your video.

                2) The street that runs past my home is a minor arterial. It’s 25MPH, but a lot of side streets empty into it, so it’s long, straight, and a bit wider than the others. Lately, we have some kids who think it’s a drag strip, and we’ve been asking the city to install traffic calming devices, but they’ve been hesitant because they are worried that if they do, emergency vehicles won’t be able to get in and out quickly. We are still arguing with them about that. In the mean time, I think this summer I might sit outside along the road at night with a camera and film some drag races for the police.Report

              • Avatar Hot Cha says:

                “Like over 90% of the people hit by cars in my city, were in crosswalks, walking with the lights if there were lights, etc.”

                And these are things that you can actually write code to handle, and car manufacturers already do this.

                “focusing on “they were jaywalking so it’s their fault” mostly serves to absolve the city’s engineers and planners of responsibility”

                At what point does a person’s risky behavior become their own fault?

                At what point does it stop being the responsibility of car manufacturers to assume that, at any instant, someone might leap out from hiding directly in front of their self-driving car?

                Or maybe any urban area should be declared a Pedestrian Hazard Zone and all vehicle traffic restricted to 5 miles per hour. This is another way that you can solve the problem–if vehicles are not permitted to operate in a manner that could ever harm a pedestrian than ipso facto no pedestrians will be harmed by vehicles. Seems to me “assume that people will follow the goddamn rules” would make everything easier but hey, I don’t live in Libertarian Fantasy World like you do.Report

              • Avatar Maribou, Moderator says:

                “I don’t live in Libertarian Fantasy World like you do.”

                Please dial down the tetchiness here. Accusing other people of living in fantasy worlds is rarely useful.Report

              • Avatar dragonfrog says:

                Look at a daylight photo of the crash location, and tell me city planning didn’t have any part to play.

                Zoom around in street view a bit – look from all angles at the big beautiful paved footpath the city built through the median, that it is impossible to reach without jaywalking, and the little ‘don’t cross here’ signs they put up rather than removing the footpath, or not building it in the first place, or, heck, even putting up a fence, which would have cost far less than the footpath.


                Here’s the satellite view:,-111.9416992,459m/data=!3m1!1e3

                Can you not agree the city planners behind that built environment bear some blame for a crash that happened because a person used something they built, for the thing it’s built for?

                If so, why were you so cock-sure they didn’t until now?Report

              • Avatar dragonfrog says:

                Here’s a better view, actually

                Start here, looking north against the direction of motor traffic, and consider what the built environment is communicating to people on foot

                Observe, to your left, the paved path going west, and to your right the serious fence communicating “seriously, don’t cross here”. Travel north, and note where the fence on your right stops and the inviting footpath starts.

                Which communicates more loudly – the entire layout of footpaths and sidewalks, or a little sign?

                If they’re going to build walking infrastructure that communicates “walk here” messages like that, shouldn’t it communicate consistent “expect people walking here” messages to people driving?Report

              • Avatar Hot Cha says:

                “Which communicates more loudly – the entire layout of footpaths and sidewalks, or a little sign?”

                Well. What communicates more loudly–the entire layout of the well-lit, well-paved, two-lane road that’s straight for several miles and has no intersections or grade crossings, or a little sign that says “25 mph”? The entire layout of the totally-empty intersection with good visibility in all directions so that I can clearly see there’s no traffic approaching, or a little sign that says “no turn on red”?Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck says:

                And my point in all this is not “pedestrians are dumb and should be killed”, my point is that saying “this problem is complicated” does not inherently require a complicated technological solution; sometimes it means redefining the problem space so that the complexity goes away.Report

              • Avatar Maribou says:

                @densityduck Forgive me if this supposition is incorrect, but it seems as though this comment implies that you are also Hot Cha. Are you using two pseudonyms now?

                Welcome back, either way.Report

              • Avatar Maribou says:

                (And just so I’m clear, that’s not me calling you out. I honestly don’t care that much and if you’d like me, as a moderator, to edit the name on this one (and then delete my comments), or to delete the above comment entirely, I’d be happy to do so to protect your pseudonym-separativity. We only care about that if someone is avoiding consequences or sockpuppeting, and that’s not what you are doing at all.)Report

              • Avatar dragonfrog says:

                Exactly. You get my point even if your agreement is oddly phrased as if it were disagreement.

                The pedestrian infrastructure communicates to pedestrians (who have not just been driving fast and straight without stopping for several miles) that this right here is a place for crossing the road.

                The driving infrastructure communicates to drivers (who have not just been walking on a foot path that directs them where to walk for several miles) that this right here is a place for driving the speed limit and not worrying about people crossing the road.

                There’s only one group with the power to change that inconsistent message – city planners – and they failed to. So when, almost inevitably, that failure kills someone, they are largely to blame, because they were negligent in their duties.Report

              • Avatar dragonfrog says:

                To say “it’s the driver’s fault, they were speeding” in a spot where everyone “speeds” because the built road clearly communicates a faster driving speed than the little white signs, is dodging the city’s responsibility to build safe roads.

                To say “it’s the pedestrian’s fault, they were jaywalking” in a spot where everyone “jaywalks” because the built walking path clearly communicates this is the spot for crossing, is dodging the city’s responsibility to build an environment where walking is safe.Report

              • Avatar PD Shaw says:

                I’ll make slightly different point. A lot of assumptions are being made about jaywalking. Jaywalking is a law that is usually made at the community level and is frequently full of conditions and qualifications. Some frequent rules depend on whether there is a marked crossing visible, whether there is a sidewalk, whether there is a sign, whether this is a residential neighborhood, and whether the person is getting into a car. Also, this guy might be classified as a bicyclist and may have a superior right-of-use to the car.

                Don’t know what the rule is here. A lot of community codes are not on-line I think.Report

              • @dragonfrog “cock-sure”, really? that was also unnecessary.Report

              • Avatar dragonfrog says:

                You’re right, it was unnecessary. I apologize for that, @hot-cha .Report

              • if they jaywalk, they relinquish any claim to having a right of way. Ergo, when you jaywalk, you assume all the risk* of that action. If you are not going to use the marked crossing, that’s fine, but you’d better be alert and quick.

                In my experience, though, it’s often* safer to Jaywalk than, say, use a crosswalk at a stop sign, which cars in my city very often (too often, in my view) neglect or pay only insufficient attention to. When I’m in a jaywalking situation, it’s often* easier to gauge oncoming cars whereas when I’m crossing at a stop sign, it’s harder to tell if/when/whether the car will stop or slow down.

                Now, the calculation changes with stop lights. And in my city, car drivers tend to respect them, and pedestrians who cross with the light, more than they do stop signs (unless they’re making right turns, but it’s okay because the drivers are probably really in a hurry). I will often* (actually, almost always) go out of my way to cross at a light when jaywalking is too dangerous and the stop signs (as usual) can’t be trusted.

                *I realize “often” covers a bunch of sins. I mean sometimes, but not always, and maybe not more often than not, but enough that it needs to be a consideration.Report

              • Avatar dragonfrog says:

                RIght-turn slip lanes are the worst – the absolute worst.

                Watch 10 drivers go through the slip lane, you’ll see at least one coming through at high speed, looking left to time their merge into the cross traffic, and not look at all for people using the crosswalk.

                The crosswalk, at the same time, is at such an angle that the person preparing to walk into it is facing away from the cars approaching the slip lane, and often sightlines are so poor that even walking backward to watch for approaching cars wouldn’t warn them in time.Report

              • Avatar Hot Cha says:

                “[T]he vast majority of people hit and injured or killed by cars, are not jaywalking, they have right of way.”

                That’s not actually a response to what I proposed.

                “People jaywalk in fairly predictable ways ”

                They’re still jaywalking.Report

    • Avatar Road Scholar says:

      So I just watched the dash cam video. IMHO, there’s no way in hell a human driver would have avoided that collision; it all happened way too fast. An expert of some sort in driverless tech opined that the AI should have been able to detect the pedestrian on account of radar, lidar, etc.

      What I find interesting about that opinion is that he was condemning the tech for not being vastly superior to a human driver rather than being demonstrably inferior.Report

      • Avatar Hot Cha says:

        “What I find interesting about that opinion is that he was condemning the tech for not being vastly superior to a human driver rather than being demonstrably inferior.”

        That’s the whole point, though. If these systems aren’t actually better than a human driver then there’s no reason to exchange the known risks of human drivers for the unknown (and, by some philosophies, unknowable) risks of a computerised one.Report

        • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

          These are learning systems, they can only get better by going out and doing.

          The advantage is, once they are better, that quality can simply be transferred to every car in the fleet, unlike humans, who have to be trained individually.Report

          • Avatar Road Scholar says:

            @oscar-gordon , this brings up something I’ve been thinking about. Why are they testing these systems fully live at this stage?

            They could hook up with a trucking company, cab company, UPS, etc to have the system installed in a number of vehicles but not have the outputs (brake, accelerator, steering) actually hooked up to anything but a recorder. Just have the thing pretend to drive and upload data to engineers whenever there’s a significant discrepancy between what the AI wants to do and what the human driver actually does or should have done.

            You’d get a metric buttload of training data over all sorts of roads and conditions, emergency situations, etc. And there would be exactly zero legal or ethical issues since the vehicle is actually being driven by a licensed and presumably competent driver. Then only when the simulated performance has been tweaked to however many nines of reliability is deemed sufficient do you actually let the thing control the vehicle.

            It just seems to me that Uber and Alphabet, et al are sort of running ahead of their own feet.Report

            • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

              I don’t know about Uber, but Alphabet did just that, for a couple of years. But neural networks and learning algorithms can’t just learn by watching others, they have to do it themselves as well. They have to make decisions based upon how they ‘see’ the world, not just how we see it.

              As I said before, I suspect either the AI has to be trained better on how to recognize a person and/or a bike, or it has to be trained better to assume large objects crossing busy roads will be unpredictable and could change speed and/or direction for no discernible reason.

              BTW, here is the NTSB link for the incident. For everyone who wants to keep on eye on this, check on this link from time to time.Report

              • Avatar Marchmaine says:

                One thing I noticed as I watched the video was how bright and visible the Shoes were… That’s what I saw and I immediately extrapolated to person – even as I couldn’t actually see the person.

                I’d guess that this might be a case of too much information and the trust framework sorta failed or sorta worked, depending on what problems we need to solve… something along the lines that maybe lidar identified a moving object but the visual identified it “down” to a rodent or something.

                There has to be some sort of framework that deals with information conflict, else lidar might have us screeching to halt at dust or other ephemerals.

                I suspect this might not be a failure so much as working as intended; but our intentions of not stopping for fog or squirrels need working.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

                As I mentioned above, extrapolating from partial data to the whole is actually pretty tricky for an AI to do without a lot of practice.

                A lot of the final answer will reside not in what the camera saw, but in what the Lidar and Radar ‘saw’ and how it interpreted that data absent corroborating information from the camera.Report

            • Avatar Will H. says:

              They’ve been doing it with tractors for awhile now.
              The chemicals sprayed can be controlled by satellite referencing soil map data to determine what nutrients need replaced.

              Next time you call Uber, specify a John Deere.Report

            • Avatar veronica d says:

              @road-scholar — They can up to a point. Uber probably has. The issue is, this whole approach is called “reinforcement learning,” where the AI is programmed to “reward” earlier actions based on later results. In other words, imagine I’m an AI. For simulus X, I choose action Y. I do that over time, tracking a series of Xs and Ys. Likewise, over time I track my performance. For a good performance, I boost the weights of my earlier X->Y pairs. For poor performance, I lower those weights (which in turn makes other X->not-Y responses more likely). Keep doing that long enough in a variety of situations, and I learn a good set of X->Ys.

              Learning a human’s X->Y pairs is a good baseline. However, I have a different input system from a human. I have to learn my own way. Likewise, because I want to optimize my performance for my particular perception-response profile, I need to explore a variety of different Ys, to find what works well, big picture. (There is a lot written on this explore-optimize tradeoff. Obviously there is a big difference “exploring” in a safe “sandboxed” environment and “exploring” on city streets. But some exploring needs to happen, within bounds.)Report

  14. Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

    And we have video.

    Heads up, it stops a split second before impact.Report

    • Avatar Troublesome Frog says:

      Interesting. Definitely a suicidal crossing plan. A human with eyeball dynamic range similar to the camera would certainly have a problem with that.

      I guess the Uber cars aren’t equipped with longer range LIDAR like the Google cars are/were. If the system is limited to seeing what I just saw in that video, I’d be inclined to say they don’t have enough sensor input. This makes me suspicious that they’re releasing the one view a human would have and not showing what the sensors saw because that makes the car’s decision making more suspect.

      Then again, I can’t imagine how even a half-assed self-driving car with decent sensor data showing a large-ish object like that ahead of it with no background clutter to confuse the issue, clearly moving across your direction of travel could possibly screw up that badly. So maybe they don’t have enough sensor data. Weird.Report

      • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

        I’ve watched this about 6 times now. At least, the first few seconds, the interior view is useless. Some thoughts:

        1) The police released the video, not Uber. They probably did so because it’s the one thing they have that is readily view-able by the public. The sensor data is likely too raw to be of any interest at the moment.

        2) I’m betting the car detected the pedestrian, but somehow her profile failed to register as an obstacle. She’s crossing far and away from any expected pedestrian crossing (there are no houses or storefronts or sidewalks that I can see – I’m not entirely certain she came from a road, rather than crossing the grassy median). She’s wearing dark clothing and carrying a lot of bags, and her bike does not appear to have any lights or reflectors on it (at least none the headlights are picking up).

        I’m wondering if the AI thought she was a large plastic sheet blowing across the road, or something similar

        Honestly, absent better information, I have to say that had there been a person behind the wheel, she’d likely still be dead. I mean, I was watching for her and I don’t know that I could have reacted fast enough to avoid her. A person who had their attention even mildly diverted (in conversation with a passenger, fiddling with the radio, etc.) would almost certainly have hit her.Report

        • Avatar Maribou says:

          @oscar-gordon Thank you for this – I was waiting to see what you thought because I value the way you lay things out when analyzing something. I also appreciate the tech crunch link.

          My reaction was a little different than yours in that, if I were driving down that road, I’m pretty sure I would have seen her. I might not have successfully averted, but I would have tried, and given my previous experience with such things, which suggests that my reaction times are well-trained enough to move a lot faster than my conscious awareness of them, I would probably have succeeded. I definitely would’ve been watching the road, which I don’t think the safety driver was, although they might have been watching a video or readout – they look like a person looking down at a screen. It’s true that it’s not a pedestrian-looking area – more like a park? or a highway? But it’s also true that the woman was coming across a full lane of road on the empty left side of the car, even though she was shadowed. (I did some testing with the pause button on the 2nd time I watched it, trying my best to really be SURE I was seeing her, and not the headlights of the car ahead, letting my conscious brain lead my hands where in real life it has been the other way around, and I got >2 seconds – 2 seconds being the optimal following distance between 2 cars, because it gives you reaction time – between “hey there is something there I would prefer to avoid” and impact. Granted that’s knowing the context. And it feels macabre of me to have even tried that. Still.) Also the second I saw *something*, I would have slowed or swerved if at all safe. (I would really like to know if there were cars behind the Uber….)

          Does the car seem to have slowed before the last .5 seconds or so to you? It doesn’t feel that way to me … but I’m not all that good at judging acceleration/deceleration (as opposed to “is something moving” :/) in videos.Report

          • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:


            I won’t say it’s impossible for a human to avoid that collision, but it would be highly unlikely and require spot on awareness and really good reflexes (you’d have to swerve, there is no way to stop in time, and you’d still probably hit the back wheel, depending on the responsiveness of the car you were driving). If, for instance, it was an area known for pedestrians jaywalking and you were actively watching for them, you might have enough warning, however, there are two things working against you (and the AI, for that matter). I won’t say it’s impossible, because I’ve done similar with regard to deer (unlit country roads, especially during hunting or rutting season, you keep your eyes moving unless you want a new hood ornament).

            The person was not crossing under the street lights. She was crossing just beyond the area illuminated by the street light. That is going to screw up any sensor system that operates in the visible spectrum, since the street light will effectively wash out anything beyond it’s area.

            Second, the person had no visible reflectors on the bike that were facing the car, i.e. spoke reflectors. You know, the reflectors mounted to the wheel spokes that come standard on every bike, and that most folks never bother to remove because they get in the way of nothing. Had the wheels had reflectors, the car would have seen those probably a full second before the headlights actually illuminated the person. I mean, that is the reason bikes come with reflectors. And to be honest, had the bike had reflectors, the LIDAR would probably[1] have gotten a serious return on those way before the camera picked them out.

            Now, if the AI had been trained that spoke reflectors were a good way to identify a bike in motion, and the thing the LIDAR was seeing (but the camera wasn’t) lacked those reflectors, or any other highly reflective surface, it may have been confused long enough that it failed to act.

            As for the last half second, I can’t tell either, it’s too dark to get a good feel, but the system logs will show exactly if and when the car attempted to apply brakes or to maneuver.

            [1] I say probably because it’s possible the LIDAR used a frequency that was just really bad at getting reflective returns off of such objects. Using that kind of LIDAR would be pretty G-D stupid in this application, but…Report

            • Avatar Michael Cain says:

              That is going to screw up any sensor system that operates in the visible spectrum, since the street light will effectively wash out anything beyond it’s area.

              The dynamic range handled by the human eye is still significantly better than video cameras. I was startled in the video by how close the car was to the person before anything showed up. A couple of years back I was surprised by how far away I could see the white stripes on the family of skunks crossing the road ahead of me.

              Now, if the AI had been trained that spoke reflectors were a good way to identify a bike in motion, and the thing the LIDAR was seeing (but the camera wasn’t) lacked those reflectors…

              What jumped out at me was the double-diamond frame. Maybe because I’m a cyclist, but it’s a very distinctive pattern that also indicates which direction to swerve (behind the cycle) for evasive action. The car didn’t need to move very far to the left — a couple of feet? — to have still taken out the back wheel of the bike, but missed the person.

              When I was young and rode a motorcycle, I was incredibly paranoid. I believed that people/vehicles were going to jump out in front of me. At almost every point in time, I knew where I was going to go if I had to take evasive action. I’d like my self-driving car, if I ever acquire one, to be running an evasive action planning thread at all times.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

                Good point, I did the same thing when I rode motorcycles, saved my ass more than once. The lack of a running set of escape vectors is a possible flaw in the AI (and could very likely be the result of Uber not being allowed to play with all the stuff they’d been lifting from Waygo).

                As for the LIDAR and the double diamond, I go back to, what is the resolution of a moving LIDAR system? It is good enough to pick out a double diamond system when there is a human body carry a bunch of bags in the way? Perhaps if the person had been walking the bike on the other side, so the frame was in clear view, the AI would have picked up on it. But we shouldn’t assume the AI has been trained to extrapolate a bike frames shape from incomplete data. I mean, that might be a good idea, but that doesn’t mean it’s been done.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter says:

                But we shouldn’t assume the AI has been trained to extrapolate a bike frames shape from incomplete data. I mean, that might be a good idea, but that doesn’t mean it’s been done.

                Maybe. If every undefined vague shape “might be a person” even in situations were we wouldn’t expect humans to do well, then we might see the system braking for every blowing bag.

                Yes, we should check into this. Yes, odds are good there’s something we can tweak or some aspect of the technology we can improve. Given how new all this is, that’s the expected answer.

                However, bottom line is people are going to get run over by robots on occasion, and we need to get comfortable with that.Report

        • Avatar Road Scholar says:

          I’m reminded of the Tesla car that slammed into the side of a semi because it couldn’t see it apparently. A slab of aluminum the size of a billboard directly in its path.

          IMHO, Elon & crew are directly responsible for that man’s death. The tech clearly wasn’t ready and it was irresponsible as hell to put a civilian in that car with a button marked “Autopilot”.Report

          • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:


            IIRC, the Tesla in that case had repeatedly told the human to take control because it was having trouble.Report

        • Avatar Morat20 says:

          If the car does have lidar, as Uber insists, the car should have detected her and come to a stop. I don’t know if could have come to a complete stop (depends on how wide an angle the lidar uses), but it should have been able to slow down enough for a survivable impact. The conditions appeared fine for lidar (and there are conditions that aren’t, and I agree with Elon Musk that lidar can be a crutch in design), and both the pedestrian and the bike were the sort of objects they should have picked up on.

          So everything else aside, there was a failure of some sort on the part of the car.

          I don’t know how well a human driver would have done (those dash cams don’t really show you the road how a human would — perhaps the mark I eyeball might have caught her movement peripherally and triggered a look, perhaps not), but statistically — it was a bad situation for the pedestrian. Not at a crosswalk, dark clothing at nighttime (and clearly not looking for oncoming cars, unless the Uber car was driving lights off)….

          I’m not comfortable saying the car was driving worse than a human here — it might have been considerably better — but I can say that, from what Uber’s said about it’s car setups, it wasn’t driving as well as it should have been.Report

          • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:


            I’ll reiterate that I suspect the car had the person on LIDAR, but was unable to suss out what it was seeing until it was too late. This could be because Uber gave the AI insufficient pattern matching criteria, or a bad set of assumptions for this case, etc.

            For instance, as I suggested in my reply to Maribou above, if the AI was instructed to use wheel reflectors as a quick way to identify a bike crossing in front of it, and the bike lacked those reflectors, then the AI had to start using other criteria. Is there a human head? Not sure, the person was hunched over the handlebars, a head might not have resolved on LIDAR very well, especially if the person’s hair was blowing around. How much resolution can the LIDAR achieve at a given distance and closing speed? We often see those neat pics of how LIDAR can paint an area, but typically those are taken from stationary emitters, A moving emitter probably has a lot less resolution to work with, and if that is the case, I can certainly see the trainers offering up reflectors moving in a circle as a handy pattern to identify a bike moving perpendicular to the car. Sure, there are other patterns it uses, but the patterns are only as good as what the trainers can come up with.

            Toss in other assumptions, like don’t necessarily expect people to be crossing arterial roads with speeds above 40MPH (speed limit was 45MPH) except at marked crossings, and yeah, the AI is gonna have an issue.Report

            • Avatar Maribou says:

              I feel like “there is suddenly a large object interfering with the lights of the car in front of you” would be a good use case for “go into emergency mode”. (Because of stuff like trees, stuff falling off trucks, etc.) Reflecting on my relatively quick reaction to what was in the video, that’s what I was reacting to. And even if the conclusion was “plastic bag, more dangerous to slow than not,” or whatever, it should still have gone into that mode.

              I’ll be curious to see whether it “remarked” on more than a mild puzzling thing before the last possible instants.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

                Unless there is a lawsuit, we’ll probably never know, since that would fall under proprietary info, but yeah, it would be very interesting.Report

              • Avatar Road Scholar says:

                What I’m curious to know is whether the woman was moving the whole time or just standing by the side of the road and moved into the street at the last moment. Can’t tell from the video, but if it was the latter the AI’s decision could well have been “stationary object by side of road: ignore” until such time as the object moved and then it’s too late to usefully react.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

                Another possibility is that the person was running across the road, and slowed down at the last second in order to get the bike over the curb and onto the sidewalk. Assume the LIDAR had them, and it had their speed as sufficient to clear the road before it reached them, a sudden decel on the part of the pedestrian could have changed the calculation without enough time to do anything. If that is the case, the system will have to have it’s margin of safety increased, so it starts slowing down or maneuvering to avoid sooner just in case the pedestrian does something unpredictable.Report

      • @troublesome-frog

        This is going to sound like a criticism but I don’t mean it that way.

        I know by “suicidal” you mean the person was taking a huge risk and knew or should have known it was a huge risk. However, I wish we’d reserve that word for people who we know are trying to kill themselves. If someone actually is suicidal, that’s a different story.

        This is probably just a personal preference and nothing more. I’m uncomfortable people using that word figuratively, even though I’ve probably done so, too. I realize your use of the word is part of standard usage and while I’m expressing my discomfort, I’m not criticizing either of you for using it.Report

      • Avatar dragonfrog says:

        Uber execs claimed that there cars do have lidar –

        Uber’s self-driving vehicles are equipped not only with cameras but with radar and lidar, which works like radar but using lasers to detect objects on and off the roadway.

        Uber and other companies working to develop self-driving cars tout the safety of their systems not only because the vehicles won’t lose focus on the road, like human drivers, but because they have superior sensing capabilities.

        Last fall, Uber officials showing off their vehicles on Mill Avenue said their radar and lidar were able to detect objects, including jaywalkers, as far as 100 yards away and avoid collisions.

        Not at all obvious in the video is just how city planning & built environment contributed to this – there’s a huge beautiful footpath through the median that the victim was walking on. It’s literally impossible to get on or off the footpath without jaywalking, and there are little signs (maybe or maybe not readable in the dark) indicating you should go use the crosswalk to the north. But they built a frigging footpath. That speaks louder than any sign. If you don’t want people walking somewhere, you build a fence, not a path.

        Here’s the crash site in daylight (I don’t know if the car was north or south bound, but it’s effectively the same either way).,-111.9421808,3a,75y,287.68h,71.97t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sk2FfaCDJ44xYkMrQU2EBiA!2e0!7i13312!8i6656Report

        • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:


          Yep, agree, phenomenally bad spot for pedestrian paths. I’d say that is certainly a contributing factor. And zero warning for drivers that there are pedestrian paths in the median.

          (Car was N-bound, btw).Report

    • Avatar Dark Matter says:

      And we have video.

      Weird. He’s in shadow right before the impact. I can see the feet and the bottom of the bike, but the chest is basically invisible. Maybe wearing black?

      If I was a pattern matching AI… without the chest you’re maybe into “lesser animal” territory, like a rabbit or shrunk or something, and not into “large object” territory.

      (Yes, I know, it doesn’t have that level of thought).Report

      • Avatar Troublesome Frog says:

        If you have to choose between hitting something and risking swerving, you definitely have some logic to evaluate how dangerous a thing is to hit. You don’t want the car swerving off the road because a plastic bag blew in front of it.

        If they’re driving at night based only on vision lit by the headlights and street lamps, they’re either geniuses or crazy. I’m skeptical of both.Report

    • Avatar Road Scholar says:

      I didn’t see your comment until after I posted above. Anyway, it seems to me that the criticism here is that the AI is being expected to be vastly superior to a human driver, rather than only being just as good. As someone who has logged somewhere between 2.5 to 3 million miles in the last twenty years, over 48 states and basically every city you care to mention, day and night and all sorts of weather, I can state that based on the video I would have flattened that woman. There’s no way in hell I could have reacted in time to avoid her and I would have been damn thankful for the dash cam video to exonerate me.Report

      • Avatar Dark Matter says:

        the criticism here is that the AI is being expected to be vastly superior to a human driver, rather than only being just as good.

        Yes. My expectation is “Just as good”, in combo with “never gets drunk, tired, or distracted” will be such an amazing improvement we should forgive it the occasional death.

        And that’s just from a safety standpoint. Driving is tiring, I’d love to be able to do things other than stare at the road.Report

        • Avatar Road Scholar says:

          Exactly this. If the AI is only as capable as a normally competent, attentive, and alert human it would be a huge win. To “never gets drunk, tired, or distracted” we can add not driving like an a$$hole or succumbing to road rage. And some folks just aren’t very good drivers no matter how careful they are. I’m married to a lovely woman who fits that description; poor eyesight, not a lot of experience, and low confidence. Which brings up another angle; the elderly and disabled could gain a great deal of independence.Report

          • Avatar dragonfrog says:

            That makes perfect sense.

            The average driver with 20/20 vision and good hearing, who is fully awake, alert, sober, not stressed out or angry, not on the phone, not currently fiddling with the stereo or temperature controls, not trying to figure out the confusing directions their nephew gave them, and who strenuously avoids tailgating, running red lights, or speeding, is a damn sight better than the average driver overall.

            When you add things like medium-range communication of observed traffic conditions, a merely-competent AI driver can turn into the equivalent of the above calm and competent human, who is also listening at all times to a hyper-local traffic report on the radio.Report

            • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

              Never goes the wrong way down a one way street or highway.

              Never fails to signal to other vehicles intended turns or lane changes.

              Never suddenly remembers they have to take this exit and cuts across three lanes of traffic to do it.

              The list goes on…Report

  15. Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

    I agree that had the human been driving, the person would be just as dead, unless they driver was fully alert and watching for jaywalkers.Report

    • Avatar Michael Cain says:

      Bloomberg quoted a forensic engineer saying that a typical driver on a dry asphalt road would have “perceived, reacted, and activated their brakes in time to stop about eight feet short of Herzberg.” The engineer also noted the equivalent of a comment I made above, that human vision handles a greater dynamic range than video cameras. All of the engineer-types quoted in the article seem puzzled that a lidar-based system failed to identify that there was something in the way.Report

      • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

        To that I would reply, yes, the human eye has better dynamic range than a camera. Except in that specific instance of a person on the far side of a strong light source. You approach a street light in the dark, your lower range is washed out by the light as your pupil contracts. Once you are past the light, your pupil with expand again and give you your dynamic range back.

        Note, this trick of the light is still a common way for magicians to make things disappear.

        ETA: That said, the trick of the light is irrelevant to the car, since the LIDAR should have had her, so it comes down to the AI.Report

  16. Avatar Michael Cain says:

    In a separate case of society and technology intersecting, the City of Atlanta is reportedly suffering from a ransomware attack, and their customer-facing systems are locked down.

    I swear, I am increasingly tempted to retreat to a Raspberry Pi running Linux…Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      Eh, facebook will be myspace in 5 years.

      It’s not necessarily because of this data thing (though that didn’t *HELP*). It’s that facebook is now something that sons of the soil who watch Fox News use. Facebook worked when you needed a .edu email.

      It doesn’t work when you can “like” Alka-Seltzer Plus. (10,516 people like this, by the way.)Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:

      Saying quitting Facebook is impossible implies a lack of understanding of the word “impossible”.Report

      • Avatar Will H. says:

        I quit FB.
        I was unable to log in to my account, and then they said they needed more personal information from me to confirm who I was before they let me log in.
        I decided right then I did not care for them confirming who I was through third parties rather than accepting my word for it, and never looked back.Report

    • Avatar James K says:


      A corollary to that article though is that once people start doing it, it will rapidly get easier.Report