The Illusion of Privacy

As technology advances the sharing and storing of information the concern about privacy is being raised. We are constantly asking the question about who has the right to know about our private information. Then the problem arises. What is our private information?

Let us start with the basics. Our name. Our name is given to us in order to identify us to other people, first family, then friends and neighbors. Later to the whole open society. My name is the URL address of this blog. The Uniform or Universal (sic) Resource Locator – URL. Thus my name is not private, it is public. Then my birthdate, my address, my phone number, and other data is also public.

Our bank account number is know by my bank, and by those who I have given checks. Business like my “refuse” collector, utilities, retail stores, know my bank account number. What guarantee do we have that these bank account numbers can’t be used in a fraudulent way. Do we have a 2D or 3D security system for their use?

Our Social Security number is known by many people, organizations, and business. My bank knows it, my accountant knows it, my employer knows it, my health providers know it. So, what would happen if these numbers are shared or leaked to other players, some of whom might be undesirable. We know this happened before as we have seen the breach of the servers of big corporations some of them financial like Equifax that have reach settlements worth millions of dollars.

Our localization can be now shared through different applications both in our computers as in our smartphones. The Chinese government has recently used this information to keep citizens isolated and in curfew due to the Corona virus outbreak. It is not clear how these citizens feel about being watched and controlled by their government but it appears that the curfew has been effective, even though we do not know if the spread of the virus has been stopped. Citizens of some provinces in China have been indoors recluse in their own home for more than a week and only one member of the household is allowed to go out every couple of days to gather supplies. Meetings places like cinemas are closed. We don’t imagine something similar happening in the USA as we see the communist government in China having complete control over their population, but we really don’t know if our government has the same technological capability.

Then we move to our family and relatives, they carry a lot of our information too. How can we protect our privacy without intruding into their privacy?

Finally our browsing and purchase history is out there in the data cloud. We know that every time we click on a website, ask google, Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, or MSN’s Cortana for something, they store, analyze, and distribute this information. Every time we purchase something using our credit cards, the bank’s AI system will take note of our purchasing trends including amounts, localization, and items, so they know how to detect frauds and set alarms warning signals that can tell us if someone is using of credit cards without authorization.

With this thoughts in mind we know there is no real privacy, so what are we supposed to do? First is to be aware, to be conscious that we are observed in every move, every step we take is recorded (even if we are not moving as when we are sleeping, our “fit” app is keeping track of our sleep!) so we need to be aware. Second we have to learn how to use AI, as we understand how algorithms work we can feed the algorithm. You can use the credit cart to purchase things you want the algorithm to know, and you use cash when you don’t, as one example.

Please use the comments below to let me know if you have something

How It Is vs How It Looks

When understanding reality one is compelled to think that what we see is what it is. It is just normal and human. But in a closer analysis we find that time changes the way we look at things and that there are “optical” illusions that obscure reality. It has always been this way but we are now paying attention to the things we are living just because it is our time. What is happening now is what is affecting us now, psychologically, economically, socially, and in every singe aspect of our existence.

One of my daily routines is to read the column in The Oregonian “This day in history” as it gives me a perspective of what has been happening over the years, well beyond my own life. Events that happened sometimes decades, sometimes centuries past. It gives me for sure a sense of perspective about our history and our struggle as humans and gives me a view of a panorama of events that in a complexity of relationships have an impact of our lives today.

As, I believe, Yogi Berra said many years ago: “The future is not like it used to be” reflects the complexity in the analysis of present day events. My quest is now related to the things I can do now, and how should I feel about the present. Of course these feeling have to relate, one way or another, to the reality of the situation, and to the way I see what this reality is.

I will focus first on my perception of reality based on the knowledge that what I see is not what others see, as an example I can mention a book I am currently reading. “Educated: A Memoir” written by Tara Westover is an insight to how people can live entangled with their own perception of life. How we can base our action on assumptions created by the way we are educated. Growing up in the remote mountains in Idaho Tara Westover didn’t go to school, her father feared that his children would be indoctrinated away from the teachings of The Bible. Reading the Bible and doing his own interpretation of it was for Tara’s dad the only truth needed for life. His worldview was based on his interpretation. As it used to be many-many years ago, people born in farms would not have a birth certificate, as my grandmother born in the late XIX century didn’t have. My grandmother had to register just before getting married in 1911 with help of relatives who witnessed her birth and through affidavit stated that she was who she claimed to be. Living afraid of the government Tara’s dad never took his children to the doctor, to the hospital or to the registry. So when Tara was registered at the age of nine they didn’t remember the exact date of her birth, they only remember it was the last week in July. With one of Tara’s brothers it was even worst as they couldn’t remember if it was May or June when he was born.

Seeing life through the lens of trust or mistrust is one main difference between those who see the government in society as the enemy and those who see the government as of the people, for the people, and by the people. Attitudes and actions are developed accordingly. Living in urban environment where you need to trust the system versus living in rural areas where reliance is on one’s own capabilities.

In today’s world where we are more interconnected and interdependent we can’t afford to see others as the enemy. We must recognize that the solution to the problem today require the participation of all. We much come together even with our differences to find ways of improving life for all, here and everywhere.

Semantics and dictionaries

In the USA the conversation about socialism is getting front attention. Many articles are being written related to the political environment where ideas about the future are exchanged. It appears that in some cases people are thorned between believing in capitalism as a political philosophical ideology or, on the other hand, socialism.

But there is a big problem with this dichotomy. Capitalism and socialism are not on the same plane. They are not exclusive.

Most English dictionaries in the USA confuse the terms socialism and communism, for example, The Newbury House dictionary has for socialism “a political belief or philosophy that says the government should own and run factories, hospitals, schools, etc. with the people sharing in work and product: Under socialism, the government pays for most education.” and for communism it has: “a political system in which all business and other property are owned by the government for the use and good of the people: Communism took hold in Europe and Asia after World War II.”

As it is clear from the previous dictionary entries the definition of socialism and communism is the same. So why are there two words if they mean the same thing?

The answer, of course, is that this dictionary definition is not accurate. One thing is the economic system called communism where there is no private property. And, another thing is the social system where the policies established by a democratically elected government are to benefit society in general. The wellbeing of the individual is intrinsically dependent on the wellbeing of society. Thus education benefits the individual as it benefits society in general. That is why in the USA a public system of education, paid by its citizens guarantees free schooling up to grade 12. A socialist idea.

Free roads, highways, freeways, are other examples of how citizens come together to build infrastructure for the general benefit. Dams, levees, ports, that are managed by the Coast Guard and The US Army Corps of Engineers are more good examples of socialist endeavors.

The question today is: Is health care a national interest?

Philosophy of change

Why do we need to study philosophy?

One might love learning, or one might see the practicality of learning. Either way learning philosophy is something we cannot avoid or should not avoid. The good news is that there are many ways of getting into it, from a very introductory to a more sophisticated. Let’s start with a fun introductory way. Let’s talk about “The Hobbit and Philosophy” edited by G. Basham and E. Bronson.

You can learn more about the book following this link:

https://books.google.com/books?id=h2gpEAXIyaYC&lpg=PP1&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false

Basham and Bronson start by quoting Aeschylus: “Men shall learn wisdom, by affliction schooled” and later quoting Confucius: “The gem cannot be polished without friction, not man without trials.”

These quotes made me think about what is going on around the world and particularly in the USA. It looks like there is a little friction and grinding as one is needed to polish a gem. The gem metaphor for me is humanity. We need to go through these changes, so we can mature from an individualistic selfish and childish society to a grown-up tantrum free, peaceful society.

The changes we are witnessing now make people anxious with a feeling of vulnerability but they are good and necessary for the maturation process. It is not an idiotic ignorant posture as so called pragmatics would say, it is a logical posture based on historical data. We have become better and better over the years, it is (called the better angels of our soul) what keep us going and struggling.

J. R. R. Tolkien in his “The Hobbit” makes it clear that in order to have a better life we must go through a transformation. One that brings us out of our comfort zone, the ordinary and forces us to see other perspectives. By doing so we learn more about ourselves thus becoming wiser and happier.

After all what is the meaning of life if it is not the pursuit of happiness?

Semantics, irrational and imaginary.

I are irrational numbers truly irrational? or imaginary numbers truly imaginary ?

Truth and Reality

What can we do to know what the truth is?

How can we know what reality is?

Scientist have a way to learn about the world, we called it “The Scientific Method” and is the process by which we have studied natural phenomena and discover many of the things we know about the universe, including of course about our world. What is important to realize is that it appears that the more we know, the more questions we can ask. A kind of paradox: The More We Know The Less We Know. The More We Know The More We Want To Know.

Part of this process is the gathering of data. Data that has to be fitted to models, hypothesis  that conform a theory with laws, principles, and a-priori assumptions. Similarly social sciences, not being exact sciences, try to model human behavior in order to understand social phenomena and predict how societies will be.

Analyzing data through statistical methods is not easy in either case, in hard sciences or social sciences. On top of these difficulties we have semantics, as the meaning of words is many times obscured, confused, or out right spun out of meaning. Take for example “economics” as the study of the production and distribution of goods and services. (As I heard today a new friend William Denis to define it for me.) Directly economics has nothing to do with the welfare of a society as it is a secondary consequence of the production and distribution of goods and services, but, (there is always a but) why would goods and services be produced and distributed in the first place if there was no societal impact, mainly for some benefit of the individuals in that system. The name “goods” semantically will indicate that it is for a benefit. It will not be “goods” if it was not, for sure.

Likewise the idea of common sense, is one of those myths about truth, and reality. Books about “common sense” or “Against Common Sense” (Kevin Kumashido) have been written to articulate what the authors ideas are about the rights or wrongs in our society, claiming that what they believe is backed by common sense. This is the worst way of arguing about ideas as most common sense ideas in the past have been wrong. Reading history we can find innumerable examples of common sense being wrong, like the earth is flat or the earth is at the center of the solar system.

I will conclude that one way that will not reveal what the reality is, is common sense. So let’s turn around a find other means of finding the truth about reality. One way of course is what was mentioned at the beginning, it is the scientific method with Falsifiability as introduced by Karl Popper in his “Critical Rationalism” to analyze the scientific process. 

Priming and framing

We go through life unaware that we have been primed and framed.

Leaders like teachers prime and frame all the time. We live in a time that has sophisticated mean for control, education, and development of ideas. We have become aware of the differences between processes and objects. Particularly in education where the student learning objectives and outcomes can be separated from the learning that someone gets from the process.

Thinking about this, I have been intentional about having in every class activities directed to priming the learning of my students, intentional about developing activities to frame the content concept of that lesson. Finally being intentional on having means for the evaluation and assessment for each learning outcome. Being intentional about it is the first step (an indispensable first step) in achieving the course objectives.

Examples of these activities are playing games, telling jokes, stories, anecdotes and music. In each case the purpose is to set the right mood so students have the attitude needed to face challenging concepts. Attitude is everything when learning. As I constantly remind my students: “If you are not having fun… you are not learning!”