Information Theory

Several decades back, Claude Shannon defined information theory. Here’s a short description that partakes of some of the hype that has always surrounded information theory.

Back in the 1950s and 1960s, Shannon’s “A Mathematical Theory of Communication” served the purpose that “quantum” does today. It was a way for a group of people to show their perspicacity in understanding pretty much everything and probably a contribution to dealing with a developing field. The transistor was invented in the early 1950s, and World War II had demonstrated the usefulness of high-speed computation.

There was much trying-to-be-erudite discussion of information theory and just plain mystification, as for the quantum everything we keep hearing about today. “Entropy” has always been useful. The fad for information theory in this respect has largely died, which is why I was surprised to hear that it has intrigued Elon Musk and others in Silicon Valley.

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Making Sense Of Elon Musk

Between temper tantrums, it appears that Elon Musk has some coherence to his worldview. There’s the rightwing stuff, but there’s also a distinctive Silicon Valley contribution. Jason Steinhauer explicates that contribution in terms of three “clashes” on how power is to be wielded.

Clash #1: An integrity problem v. an interference problem

The professionals (lawyers, scientists, college professors, trust and safety people) on Twitter see integrity of information as primary, whereas Musk sees interference with information as primary. This requires a fair bit of explaining, which Steinhauer does.

Elon has spoken publicly about how he views problems through an information theory framework. Information theory, which you can read about in the Encyclopedia Britannica, is a mathematical framework, not a journalistic or humanistic one. It is not concerned with the substance of a message—its meaning, its accuracy, its intrinsic value. Rather, its principal concern is getting messages from point A to point B with as little interference as possible. Information theory insists that solving the technical problem is the necessary first step in developing any reliable communications system.

This is why Elon has doubled-down on engineering while laying off staff focused on marketing, public relations, and trust & safety (in addition to wanting to save money). It is also why Elon has consistently tweeted about Twitter’s improved network performance and reduced latency under his leadership.

Further, Musk construes government and journalism as contributing noise, where others might see them as contributing organization and clarification.

Clash #2: Reverence for legacy institutions v. animosity towards legacy institutions

This is one of Silicon Valley’s dearest beliefs. Move fast and break things. Steinhauer has more.

Clash #3: Saving democracy v. saving civilization

A person who defines this as a conflict has defined the side they are on. A bunch of white men from South Africa and elsewhere have decided that they will save the human race. The Mars thing is part of this. Producing many children of their superior stock is part of it. The long-termism of Sam Bankman-Fried and William McAskill fits.

Musk is not the only denizen of Silicon Valley who thinks this way. It’s useful to understand their thinking for future battles.

Cross-posted to Lawyers, Guns & Money

Changing Times

I am moving into Phase 2 of my three-phase strategy for dealing with the destruction of Twitter. Phase 1 was to set up accounts on alternative platforms.

  • Mastodon. A quirky platform run by quirky people. I have seen too many reports of it being unfriendly to people of color and arbitrary bannings by those quirky people.
  • Counter.social. Not a bad interface, but nobody’s going there.
  • Post.news. In beta, but they are building it surprisingly gracefully as they add users. Up to something over 100,000 users as I write. It looks like the best choice to me.

Phase 2 is to spend some time figuring out what is the best way to interact on Post. Its setup is different from Twitter: longer posts allowed, and comments on the post, rather than the Twitter free-for-all of individual reply tweets. My first feeling was that these are improvements, but I have become less sure of that. The interface is better than Twitters, but I hope they will eventually have something like TweetDeck.

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Bad Day For Tweets

The deal is done.

I have greatly enjoyed Twitter. It has been my main source of news and a continuing thread of humor, and I have met a great number of intelligent and helpful people through it. It’s a communication medium in which I’ve tested my ideas and learned from others.

That is now likely to end.

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The Meme War

Every war has them: Tokyo Rose, Lord Haw-Haw. Your side will betray you, your leaders don’t know what they’re doing, come join us on the side of history blah blah blah. They’re part of the propaganda campaign and always will be.

This time around we have social media! And so it starts.

It actually started some time ago. Russian embassies have been shitposting for the past few years. They even hit me with one, but it was two or three years back, and I can’t find it.

This is no surprise.

The US Embassy Kyiv meme has been criticized from several directions. I like it. It’s historically accurate, refutes Putin’s assertion that Ukraine is a creation of Vladimir Lenin, and plays into some of my favorite counterfactuals: What would Russia look like if the Novgorod Republic had taken the lead rather than Muscovy? Or Kyivan Rus? That’s too long ago to work up a counterfactual – too many forking points between here and there – but I do like to think about it.

Back in November, deputies in the Ukrainian Rada (parliament) called on Kyiv to begin calling the Russian Federation Muscovy. It was not fully supported by their colleagues.

Many of those opposed to do so say that advocates are drawing on a 2009 book of fiction by amateur historian Volodomyr Bilinsky that argued that Muscovy was not the successor to Kiyevan Rus “but only a typical ulus of the Golden Horde and had nothing in common with the Eastern Slavs.” Many Ukrainians believe that but historians do not.

So Russia might be able to claim that its meme war is completely defensive.

Cross-posted to Lawyers, Guns & Money