Mixed Signals

  • opinion

Today is Thanksgiving in the US, November 29, 2020. Our jurisdictions not only face the pandemic but also face the transition into market societies, running on deep learning and alphaZero-like algorithms. (Those born before 1993 can read The Creativity Code by Marcus du Sautoy as an excuse for a crash course.)

My phone has become a digital information broker. Around 2 a.m. it started to beep and offered a link to the live broadcast of Trump’s exchanges with members of the armed forces in the field. Thanksgiving after all. The subsequent press moment provided detailed presidential reflections on conspired foul play in the elections.

Not long after I clicked away from that broadcast I got an alert from YouTube, pushing a post by Rick Reilly entitled How Golf Explains President Trump. It detailed how the current US president enjoys winning small amounts of money from his guests, at golf, by cheating. The post is one year old and seems to tie in well with what the same president is now showing around the elections.

In hindsight, I wouldn’t have wanted to miss either clip. But they do lead to a restless feeling that can easily grow into conspiracy theories based on the supposed operation of algorithms. Then it becomes difficult to trust how the algorithms respond to my commands. Thinking that Google, for example, ignores the textual reading of my question in order to give priority to a complex automated mixed consideration of what I ask (literally), of what I have to spend, of with whom I connect and of what I love to read.

Funny. The question of how to interpret a legal provision or command as a literal, original text or as what could have been intended for today’s application (in the present circumstances and the present social climate) is pre-eminently a matter of legal science.

(An excuse for a crash course is also available for this.)

However, given what Cliteur and Baudet show, I am not sure that the science still has authority in the Netherlands, or is even practiced any more.