A certain amount of ado has been made concerning whether the lead duck in a flying formation is the leader, or is actually leading. Some claim that one's observation or perception that the duck in front is leading is in fact an error, that no duck is leading the flying flock--it only appears that way.
Similar claims have been made about "personality" and "consciousness," namely that the conclusion that the personality we infer inhabiting other person's bodies and the experience of being conscious are in fact "errors." A former professor of mine, and someone who is notable for his incisive intelligence makes the remark about faces--they can really fool you into believing that there really is "someone" in there...
Perhaps the problem lies in the words "leader" and "leading," in that the crux is semantic. Consider the following conundrum.
Consider--you are standing before a large tree. A squirrel clings to the trunk of the tree on the side directly opposite to where you are standing. The squirrel is facing skyward, its tail drooping toward the ground. You walk around the tree to view the squirrel, but as you move, the squirrel scurries sideways, always maintaining its position opposite you. Question: did you walk around the squirrel?
Well, as former President Bill Clinton might say, it depends upon what you mean by the word "around."
In that the squirrel so moves that its belly is always oriented toward you, you did not walk around the squirrel. On the other hand, because you walked around the locale wherein the squirrel was located, it somehow follows that you must have as well walked around the squirrel.
How might a similar paradox obtain with respect to "leader" and "leading"?
Suppose I start dogging the footsteps of some random person in crowd of people. Wherever I go, I follow them, staying at a discreet distance so as not to arouse their suspicion. I am following them. But are they leading me?
Certainly they are. The very fact that I follow them, makes them a leader. I choose to follow their lead.
But they are not even aware of me. They have no awareness of my trailing them, much less that they mean--intend--for me to follow them. So, from their side of things they are not leading me.
Now, clearly, herds of sheep and flying fowl do lead. Cases in point:
On vacation once at Kiawah Island, one of the barrier islands off the Georgia coast, I could see single files of sea birds flying parallel to the water along the seashore. The front most bird would actively flap its wings for a while and, now and then, revert to a glide. At precisely the same point--as given by my-line-of-sight against the horizon--the bird next in line would shift from wing-flapping to a glide, or conversely from a glide to wing-flapping--and so on and forth as each bird in turn reached that point in flight space.
Such behavior is not just with sea birds. I recall an anecdote School of Architecture Dean William Mitchell related one evening round the dining table at one of the Media Lab "retreats" held at Beaverkill a few years ago. It was about a flock of sheep he encountered while motoring in Australia. As the flock passed in front of him, he gave a beep on his horn. The sheep directly in front of his car gave a jump in the air. Then, each sheep in turn, when they reach the spot at the sheep crossing where the original sheep had jumped in the air at the horn, would, in turn leap in the air...even though Dean Mitchell, beyond his original beep, was no longer sounding the horn..!!
And, it not just with animals, but people, too.
I recall reading a memoir written by the Emperor Napoleon wherein he allowed that, in the invasion of Russia, he was not so much "leading" as riding the crest of a set of interrelated events, some of which he set in motion and others he did not, and that beyond a certain point in time he was utterly at a loss to stop the process should he have indeed wanted to.
Tolstoy in his epic War and Peace as well noted this phenomenon: 500,000 Frenchmen trekking across Europe to attack Russia...Napoleon not in charge, saying it just ran itself...
I may well be wrong, but I suspect that the difficulty lies not with the meaning on the word leader at all, but really has to do with one of the issues at the core of the academic component of current day "culture wars." - Darwinism.
Darwinism, as currently exemplified by the writings of such as Dawkins, Gould, Dennett, Pinker among others, is the view that the origin and development of biological life arose by chance of its own accord from simpler chemical and physical processes. The world and the life therein was not created by a spiritual being (God); it only looks that way to some [most?] people.
Anyway, there was some interesting commentary on Monday 2/23/98, on a program on PBS radio 89.7, 5:30 pm. The topic: leading trumpeter swans back to wild habitats by taking advantage of the phenomena of "imprinting" to make swans follow light-weight aircraft. However, the discussants noted, male swans were less imprintable, as they "wanted to lead..."
People seem endowed with processes that try to make sense of the stimuli of the world. We see faces in shrubbery, ascribe agency to movement, perhaps because it makes sense to certain parts of our brains. We startle, sneeze, cough at appropriate times, with a rapid, reflexive, and often life-preserving vigilance.
We are prone to ascribe meaning to certain patterns of movements: e. g., several people in a band walking slowly toward us, especially in contexts of either neural or forbidding contexts (e.g., a "tough" neighborhood), unless recognized as friends, tends to make us alert for trouble.
So--with watching a flock of birds, they look like they have a leader. Similarly with schools of fish. Now, the interesting question is less "why are we so dumb that we think so?" but rather "why might we think so?" What possibly do we gain by so thinking??
We look for causes? Does that proclivity in this case lead us astray?
[And, what do birds actually do? Fish do? What are the studies? Clapping in rhythm: what does that show? What about breaking rhythm, as with marching soldiers breaking cadence?]
I recall in this connection a film made in the 1930's by Profs. Fritz & Grace Heider of Smith College and shown at a psychology seminar at Brandeis University graduate class by their one-time student Prof. Marianne Simmel. The film was made by taking frame-by-frame shots of a few simple shapes cut from paper being moved incrementally about a simple floor plan of a house. Played in one direction, the film ordinarily is interpreted as a family engaging in some game or activity, shown in reverse, it is interpreted as a family quarreling. Interesting...
I like books. In fact, I love them. Not just the content of those books which are my favorites, but the form of books: the pages, the binding, the cover, the "heft" of holding them in your hand.
Books have been my friends ever since I was small. I fondly recall going with my father and brother down Washington Avenue in Haverhill, MA, to the Railroad Square Branch Library, picking out some picture books, and having them checked out on my father's card. I had no idea what "checking out" meant; the very idea that you could walk out the door with books that you picked off the shelf was too good to be true.
Later, I recall making the long trek to the main Haverhill Public Library on Summer Street. It was a large brick "pile" of a building, built in the 1870's, with high ceilings, wide staircases with wooden handrails, and upstairs filled with musty old books.
I remember long summers curled up in the living room with books. A. Hyatt Verrill, who wrote about sunken treasure and mysterious castles. Wonderful books like Kenneth Roberts' Rabble in Arms. Edward Ellsberg's Captain Paul, the life of John Paul Jones. Treasure troves. The Tobermory galleon...
What is the difference between people who love books, and people who are indifferent, even hostile toward them?
One difference may be generational. People in my generation, when looking for stories, when looking for relaxation, for inspiration, for insights into living, looked to books. A bit to radio, a bit to television, but to books, mainly. Beyond the classics, like Fitzgerald and Hemingway, there were authors like Saul Bellow, John Hershey, Carson McCullers, Graham Greene, all of whom could teach you something.
Newer generations look to television. They are not readers, but lookers. Reading takes an effort. It enlists the imagination. Television requires not much more than you train your eyes in some direction.
Another difference may be personal. The reader takes their time. They wait for things to unfold. The non-reader can't hang in there while the plot thickens, but must, as they say (fittingly in cinematic lingo) "...cut to the chase...".
I recall Umberto Eco, at the NIF Symposium on Friday 11/1/96 2:00 pm at MIT, defending the linear book against hypertext: the reader-chosen endings in War and Peace, e.g., rising out of our wish not warn Natasha about her already married suitor, or don't let Prince Volkonsky die, etc. vs. the dramatic inevitably of what Tolstoy wrote.
One can debate whether ABS are good, bad, useful or not... But the mort main of governmental control at augmenting the user is markedly evident in the mandated ubiquity of the airbag.
Airbags are dangerous to your health.
The NTSB mandated their presence in cars supposedly in response to statistics that only about half of drivers were actually buckling up in seatbelts. Though the percentage of people buckling up their seatbelts has risen, the airbag has remained as a requirement. In other words, if you use your seatbelt you probably don't need the airbag in there riding along with you.
The scoreboard at auto deaths directly caused by airbags was on the order of 60-75 last time I looked, included various decapitated children. ("Careless" parents are identified by the NTSB as the culprit--not the device) The estimate of deaths prevented yearly by deploying airbags is put at about 2000 by the NTSB. Note that this is an estimate, not an empirical statistic. Why not 200? Or, 20,000?-- since it is just an estimate..??
In any event, beyond decapitations, the real threat from airbags is to your hearing--a threat completely unnoted and ignored by the NTSB.
The airbag is a device that--literally--explodes in your face. It is accompanied with a sound at a 160-180 decibel level, more than sufficient in susceptible people --the ear's "toughness" can vary from individual to individual-- to strip the delicate hair cells from the cochlea of the ear. The result for many people can be, and is, deafness and/or a condition known as tinnitus. Tinnitus is the presence of subjective sound in the ear, which can range from a soft buzz to a subway-level roar. For tinnitus, there is no treatment, no cure; once you get it, you have it for life.
(Severe, unrelenting tinnitus is no trivial matter, and for those who get it, is potentially life-threatening. Star Trek's William Shatner--who attributes his developing tinnitus from being too near an explosion on series' set--has noted both on TV talk shows and magazine articles his serious consideration of suicide as his condition worsened. He recently went through a newly developed 2-year program of selective sound habituation with the result that he is able to "live with" the unwelcome sound, though he will never actually be rid of it.)
Now suppose you already have a hearing problem, and don't want to run the risk of having it worsened by an exploding airbag--particularly one going off spontaneously or caused by a light bump into a curb. It is against the law for you disable the airbag in your car, or have anyone do it for you, without permission from the government (here, the NTSB). You have to go through a process similar to getting a note from your doctor, fill out an application form to the NTSB, whereupon they may give you permission to disable the airbag.
OK, you get permission. But, then try to get anyone to disable it! The majority of garages and mechanics simply wont do it for fear of litigation.
Will newer cars begin to have airbags that you can toggle in or out of operation? Perhaps for the passenger side--as when you have a small child up front. But not for the driver's side. It may be your car, but the wonderful ear-splitting airbag is there right with you--whether you buckle up or not, whether you want it or not.
The following newsclip says it all:
Letter from woman in US News & World Report re "What'd You Say?"
US News & World Report, April 26, cover story
Having been mentioned in the sidebar article regarding noise-induced hearing damage, "Air Bags: Saving Lives, Wrecking Ears," I would like to emphasize one important point. The air bag in our car did not do any life saving. However, the loud pressure blast of this bag caused me (the passenger without an air bag) to suffer a disabling sensitivity to sound. After many years of looking into this matter, I have found that many of those people with hearing damage from the loud blast of air bags were not in life-threatening crashes. In fact, in one study, the patient suffered serious hearing damage when the air bag malfunctioned and deployed while the car was only being started. In another case, a woman had her hearing damaged when the air bag deployed while she was parking her car and bumped in to the parking curb. It doesn't make any sense--lives not in danger, yet the precious sense of hearing altered, perhaps forever.
Barrington Hills, Ill.
(In Letters, US News & World Report, June 21, 1999, p. 8.)
We I see articles on computer-generated virtual buildings and scenery, I can't but reflect on how much sheer work such modeling demands.
The extent, in the world of things about us, things are designed ordinarily escapes our notice. Perhaps the best way for the realization of the burden of design is to build a home, or to have an addition to your existing home. This was brought home to my wife and I when, a decade ago now, we made an addition to our home.
To be sure, an architect did the overall design. His constraints included the design and flavor of the already existing house, our general wishes about what we wanted (more room upstairs for my wife's mother; a new full bath, a bedroom for one of our sons, and downstairs a new family room off the kitchen). His choices were constrained--read: helped by such considerations. Our choices--those of my wife and I--were conditioned to some extent by the overall sense of the tone and color of the rooms we wanted, but apart from that, were in fact wide open.
Take our new second floor bath, for instance. When you check into a hotel, what is in the bath that you get is all decided for you: the shape and size of the tub, indeed whether there is in fact a tub or a stand-up shower. The color of the wallpaper or wall tile. The shape and color or the sink, the commode--everything.
However, when the bath doesn't yet exist, except just as a "bath," then you have to decide every aspect of every thing.
Consider the sink. The are a myriad of shapes, sizes, and styles. Whatever you can imagine, they have. And, it not just the sink; it's also the faucets: separate hot and cold; central handle with merging hot and cold.; two faucets, but, again, with merging hot and cold; spray hose attachments, faucets in the shape of swans, stubby chromium blocks--whatever...
Every thing is designed; everywhere there is the burden of specification...
Once upon a time, I worked with a group that was attempting to put an experimental computer-based communications system in one of Boston's most renowned hospitals.
Almost without exception, the programmers in our group felt themselves to be worlds smarter than the physicians who would be amongst the system's users. (I'm afraid that I, too, at times during the course of the project felt myself smarter than the physicians.) It was prevalent, contagious.
Now, I'm sure that some of the people in our group were in fact brighter in the IQ sense than most of the physicians, as they were also smarter in the IQ sense that the generality of people in most any profession you could name. But we felt that way about any and all groups of people. Why? Because we were, purportedly at least, making computer systems for others to use: the proverbial user.
Who is the user? The user is someone who uses computers. However, we didn't think of ourselves as users. Why, we were creating the tools for others--the real users-- would be using: the hospital formulary program, the drug order program, the admitting/discharge cycle program, the physician notes program, and so forth. These programs were second order stuff. We were doing the first order stuff, the real "guts" programming that was over the heads of these other people who merely "used" the computer, while we played upon it like virtuosos.
I can't help but feel that this sense of a great divide between "us" and "them" has infected, does infect, and perhaps will always infect programming people--now matter where--and lies behind much of the dissatisfaction that computer "users" feel about their experience with their machines.
A strange lot, those "scientists" who deny people are conscious, but claim machines soon will be. It all seems to arise out of an underlying desire to savage the sensibilities of ordinary people, to encourage them to regard themselves as self-deluded in so far as them see themselves as different from machines.
Strange, too, are those who envision something akin to personal immortality by having one's body and brain gradually replaced by circuitry and electromechanical prostheses.
However subtle the microsurgery, as the flesh is consecutively whittled away, by electronics to leave an ever-diminishing band of flesh, some point will be reached when the "critical mass" of native neural tissue is diminished to the point that the formerly fleshy person is, not transferred to electronics, but rather perishes, living behind a pure automaton, which, however subtle and convincing in its outward behaviors, is empty of the kind of self-awareness we call consciousness.
Consciousness - we cannot share the experience. It is not, in the phrase of philosopher A. J. Ayer, "publicly discriminable." Yet it our first datum, and we are crazy to reject it.
Someone on the Web, in providing an annotated bibliography, included reference to a couple of my past papers and book, with the commentary: "In these three works Bolt describes his view of the conversational human-computer interface and his attempts to design such an interface. His ideal interface is one which responds to the use in much the same [way] as a normal human would. The computer discloses itself on the basis of the user's disclosing of themselves explicitly in speech and gesture and implicitly be eye movements." [M. Billinghurst and J. Savage. VRAIS 96 Tutorial, Annotated Bibliography. http://www.hitl.washington.edu/people/grof/VRAIS96/Bib.html]
While a pretty fair summary of what I attempted to do, it's only partly correct. It's true that I wanted the interface to respond to the user as would another human being. However, there are at least two aspects to that responsiveness. On the one hand, there is the allowing, the enabling, of the human user to be themselves, that is, spontaneously to use their speech, gesture, and looking about in the ways they ordinarily would in the company of others in the non-computer context. On the other hand, there is the responsiveness itself of the computer.
What I wanted to have happen was the interface to allow the human user to act in the ways they would act with another person, that is, making spontaneous utterances, along with gestures and glances, to express what they wanted to have happen. What I did not intend was to lay emphasis on the manner in which the computer would behave, that is, in an ultra-personable way, replete with humanoid affects such as nuanced speech, gestures back, meta-comments, exuding "personableness," and "personality."
This goes along with my emphasis that the appropriate realm of human/computer discourse is that about concrete things in concrete settings. That is, I don't believe in "getting personal" with machines, or somehow making machines into friends or "digital companions." For me, the purpose of having a computer interface being "conversational" is to let the person be themselves, and use their powers of communication with thorough combinations of speech, gesture, and looking to have its sway, and not to turn computers into quasi-humanoid artifacts with personality or affect.
Regarding affect--especially in the light of Prof. Roz Picard's exploration of such, I think it's quite valid for the computer to try to assess the user's state of being and try to use that knowledge to make inferences about the user's state so as to better serve the user by, e. g., trying to calm the person down, to know when the person may be "stressed-out" and so to compensate for the user's state of mind etc., but NOT itself to try to simulate emotional states or to "have" emotions.
"He who only his own country knows, knows not his own country."
The secret of multimodes is the crossing or bi-angulation of two sensory channels onto some focus.
It has been said that unless you know two languages, you don't really know any. You may use that single language you know, but you do not know "language" in the broader sense--that is, have an awareness of how systems of sounds can convey meaning.
There can be, in a sense, modes within modes. Consider binocular vision. While both eyes represent the same modality--vision--either eye see a slightly different view of whatever object or scene we might be looking at. Either eye views the same scene from a slightly different angle. The two slightly discrepant views are merged in the visual cortex and we experience depth.
That experience is a direct one. I recall being in Montreal at the site of a past Olympics. My wife and I took our two boys on a ride to the top of the Olympic observation tower. As the cable car went up the arched track ever higher, the ground fell away below us. As always, at heights, I began to feel queasy. Looking below me, I could not only see the ground and the buildings far away, but I could see depth as a direct experience.
I developed a quick cure. To counteract the queasy feeling given rise to the direct perception of height, I simply closed one eye. Viewed monocularly, the scene below me was just as vast and spread out. But depth--that is, the direct and immediate and palpable apprehension of the volume of empty space below me-- was immediately abolished upon closing that eye. I could still see the scene below me, but without the dimension of depth.
The binocular space was a space I could fall down into. Whereas the space I perceived with one eye only was a picture of space. I could infer that it was there, but not experience that it was there. Like the thought of apple pie vs. tasting it.
For to taste is largely multimodal, as well. I remember my mother's apple pie as being unmistakably apple pie. But much of restaurant pie is unidentifiable by taste and texture alone. You have to see what it is. Blindfolded, it's just "pie."
Premise: manual force-feedback is hard, or impossible. Also, this discussion presupposes a glove or other hand-sensing technology which directly furnishes hand/finger position and movement, of from which such can be reliably inferred.
What quality of the medium is inferred depends upon what you tell--in speech--the machine the material is. If "clay," what is inferred is a certain level of hardness of malleability, of reactivity to manual actions. If liquid, a certain level of viscosity.
To sculpt, the machine needs to know what you think the material is. The assumption is that you will act toward the (virtual) material in a manner consistent with that material, i. e., you will mime reasonable well, and that it--the system--can, in addition, infer the shape or viscosity from how you move your hands.
For instance, I have a Tai-Chi instruction tape in which the instructor says "Raise you arms to the side as if you were immersed in warm ocean water." The effect is that you are encouraged to raise you arms slowly. From the manner in which you raise your arms, an observer--human or machine-- might well be able to infer something about the medium through which you are moving. That your hands are extended and open, not clinched as if one were holding buckets of water or hand weights, encourages the observer to infer that your arms are traveling through some viscous medium. That you can move, but move slowly, can tell a lot about that which you are moving through.
An example of sculpting:
Suppose you say, "Let there be a big ball of red clay," your hands extended apart and in front of you, fingers extended and palms facing and held vertical. The system can then create the ball--stipulated as being of Śclay'--on the display screen.
Then, you say, "Compress the ball," bringing you hands a bit together. The machine's response is to "flatten" the ball from side to side.
People are adaptable. And machines can be made to be adaptable to some extent. Either party to a dialog can be more or less will, so to speak, to meet the other half way.
Consider the case of the teleconferencing display. The typical instance of that which we see on television programs--examples include the Sunday morning This Week show with Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts on ABC, and the MacLehrer Report on PBS--the people in the TV studio are directly before us, and the distant or remote people are on a screen over the shoulder of the person or persons in the studio.
This is not a compete "immersion" situation for the studio people. They are not in a "virtual reality" situation wherein they are in the midst of 3-D talking heads. They are, instead, reacting to and conversing with, people who are in large pictures on large screens; we, the viewers at home, see them--both the in-studio people and the people in their screens--on yet another screen, namely that of our home TV set.
How does this all work? It all works fine. The people in the studios, both those in the studio we directly see, and those in the more remote studio, are able to converse directly with one another with great ease. The only hitch seems to come when the remote correspondents are in a greatly distant time zone, say when the people in the Washington, DC studio of PBS's Washington Week in Review are chatting with someone in Moscow. There s about a two-second delay while the audio travels halfway around the globe. This delay makes for a slight overall awkwardness, as either party must allow a moment or two for their remarks to reach the other party. And, it can make for more awkward moments if and when two or more of the people in one studio "cut in" close upon the remarks of some distant speaker. The time delay makes for a de-synchronization of contact, which does not occur of course when the conversants are in each other's presence, or are in closer proximity as regards time zones.
Why does this simple set-up work so well? Well enough to call into question the need for some kind of virtual presence set-up whereby effigies or avatars of the remote participants are re-constructed in each others space by means of holographic imaging, virtual images, 3-d head-shaped screens, or by whatever means. It works well because people are very able to adapt to the particulars of a situation, and behave in terms of what that situation offers. They can, in many if not most cases, take action, modulate or modify their own actions and behaviors to play into the strengths and deficits of what their present situation offers them.
For example, the group of conversants in the proximate studio sees the people in the remote studio on their large wall-sized projections screen. Though the remote people are not there, they know that they, when addressing the person or persons at the remote location, should look directly at the faces on the screen. The video camera which in turn picks up their faces and sends it to the remote location is mounted above the large screen, and, if they look at the image of the person on the screen, the "look" of their own faces and direction-of-gaze will "look right" to the person or persons at the other end.
Also, as soon as they observe the slight "hitch" or time-delay that the people at the other end exhibit when the exchanges of "hellos" occurs, they can adjust their response speed to contemplate the implied time difference in their respective locations. The initial exchange of greetings thus becomes in effect a "calibration" of the people in either location as to the response latency of the audio channel, namely a rough and ready gauge of the time it takes for the audio and video signals, and hence their "presence" at the other location" to become manifest.
The moral of the tale here is that, in the case of teleconferencing, we don't have to wait upon various "virtual reality" types of schemes for erecting the virtual presence of the remote parties in the rooms and locations of the discussants. The plain flat screen works well enough, thank you.
Moreover, the plainness and simplicity of the screen on the wall display for the remote party in either location makes it possible for the discussants quickly to "size up" the situation as regards how either end of the discussion is hooked up to the other. They can see directly what is going on. The can quickly see and appreciate how their own actions, either in speech or gesture, affect what people see and hear on the other end.
With more involved and exotic paraphernalia in the studio, what might be the effect of their own actions becomes less clear. How do I behave in the presence of a 3-D talking effigy head just a few feet away from me? Just like I might to their person if they were really there, you say? Ok. But the person is NOT there. Instead, there is some weird, unearthly piece of apparatus there. I don't want to respond to some effigy; I want to respond to the person. OK, I see them on a screen on the wall. But it's a picture of them on the wall. I can understand that. I can take that into account because I understand what is going on in a way I don't understand, and probably can never understand, how I should act toward a things which is at once the person, and yet at the same time not the person.
Specifically, I don't want, at the same time I am trying to understand what the remote person is saying, and have enough wits about me to respond in real-time to that person and what they said, to have to gear my behaviors to some weird interactive object which is at once the person and is not the person. Adapt to it, you say--if people are, as I said early on, very adaptable. Yes, I can adapt, but there are limits.
And those limits may actually relate less to my capacity to adapt than to the persistent non-reality of the 3-D effigy before me. It's the mechanical cadaver quality of a 3-D effigy talking head before me that is, perpetually, a turn-off, a distraction, a barrier to my capacity to adapt. I don't want to adapt to a situation and circumstance that is intrinsically eerie, and can never be otherwise.
It is perhaps this last point the die-hard techie can never understand. Specifically, I have seen your clever idea, and indeed it is clever, but I don't want it.
It is just too alien, non-human, distracting. I don't want to spend my energy reacting to it. I want to spend my energy reacting to the person at the other end of the remote link, and I can do that best if there is just a reasonably clear image of them, and today's TV gives me just that.