[PLUG-TALK] [PLUG] end of libraries, start of academic web?

Keith Lofstrom keithl at gate.kl-ic.com
Sun Nov 16 10:22:03 PST 2014

On Sat, Nov 15, 2014 at 09:44:07PM -0800, logical american wrote:
> Please see http://www.ams.org/notices/201410/rnoti-p1249.pdf,  as 
> unwarranted trust has been given to computer systems.

The paper isn't about "computer systems" that are untrustworthy, per se.
It is Mathematica that is misprogrammed in the instances the authors
complain about.  A properly programmed, peer-reviewed open source
replacement for Mathematica would also have bugs, but mathematicians
could find and fix them (or spend lots of time arguing about whether
to fix or not).  Finding and fixing would be the New Thing, and the
results of these mathematical labors could directly benefit the whole
of humanity, not just readers of American Mathematical Society journals.

I am not a programmer, yet I have found and fixed lines of code in 
open source software used by millions.  I don't have to understand all
the programming constructs and subtleties to know that a formula is
incorrect, and will fail at corner cases. 

Printing an error on paper propagates it until the last paper copy rots
away (or until we develop the gumption to pencil corrective notes in the
margins of bound journals in academic libraries).  Most of us have more
courage when annotating something online;  and when the source is online
and easily annotateable (yay Wikipedia!) anyone on the planet can do so.

Wikipedia is a great example.  It is riddled with errors, but about a
dozen less of them because I've diligently researched corrections.  If
all 7 billion of us spent a few hours per year doing that, Wikipedia
would be the most reliable source of information available to humanity.
And still flawed, but less so.

> This issue needs to be addressed before the information explosion covers 
> the earth.  In other words, just how do we know that all that digital 
> information is really reliable and trustworthy? (or true, even?)  Just 
> who is going to oversee all this?

1) NOTHING is trustworthy.  EVERYTHING must be verified, and if there is
no path to repeated verification, it is dogma, not science.  Credentials
and one time peer review is not enough, because new knowledge bounds old
knowledge, and frequently invalidates it.

2) WHO is going to oversee all this?  Well, first we must lock up all
the self-designated overseers in remote prisons far from impressionable
children and adults.  Oversight is everyone's responsibility, and the
unrestricted oversight of the oversight of others is why knowledge
flourishes in free and open cultures.  Those statements are also worth
questioning, and counterexamples are worthy of study.  To date, every
time a self-nominated overseer has found justification for enforced
oversight resting on political or commercial power, I've found fraud.  

WHO shall oversee?  Every person on the planet, and with proper
genetic engineering and interfacing, every neuron-equipped life
form in the solar system.  Will we ever be free of errors?  Read
Shannon and Gödel, and realize that more knowledge will always
be more attainable than perfect knowledge.  Then read Lessig and
realize that neither is even approachable without freedom.

I could be wrong, of course. :-)


P.S. I just finished reading "Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom", about
the Taiping Rebellion / Revolution in China in the 1850s and 60s.  
Because the British trusted a handful of biased officials in Shanghai,
rebellion against the Manchus was crushed with European help, tens of
millions died unnecessarily, and progress in China was delayed more
than half a century.  Information "oversight" can have terrible

Keith Lofstrom          keithl at keithl.com

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