Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A Bit of Non-Linear Thinking

It occurred to me, in a discussion with a friend, that I try to see problems in technological terms. He brings up this political/social problem, and his political/social perspective on it.

My initial response is a political/social one. My standard reply to issues of this nature is Ye Olde Efficiency vs. Stability, the idea that as a system becomes more efficient, it becomes less stable, and vice versa. If we lose languages and cultures, it becomes easier to get things done, but we are more vulnerable to certain kinds of disasters because our repertoire of responses is more limited.

But then I realize, after thinking about it some more, that this issue is going to be completely transformed by technology. Once machine translation becomes reliable (which may take a very long time, but unless the human brain is some weird quantum black box we have no hope of ever understanding, it will happen) the entire system of language interaction is going to be dramatically changed. I don't know how, exactly, but depending on the exact implementation--well, at the very least, it'll become less massively necessary to learn the dominant language.

This is how I try to see a lot of social problems. Social problems are big and messy and unsolvable, because they depend on cultural assumptions and value judgments. And conversations about social issues are even worse--I hate discussions where you go round in circles without getting anywhere, and that's what tends to happen when laypersons (and politicians) have these discussions.

But make it a technological problem, and suddenly it's solvable. Until that technological solution becomes its own social problem, but those issues tend to be much more clear cut and much easier to avoid.

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