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Popular Words

Posted on December 11, 2012 in Language

People love to latch on to particular words, and once that latching has occurred there seems to be a real conspiracy to make sure that nobody ever uses that word appropriately ever again. Leaving aside the white elephant of this phenomenon, I am particularly annoyed by the conflation of algorithm and program. Here is some New Aesthetic jagoff claiming that Ada Lovelace wrote the first algorithm, when the very text he quotes explains that she wrote the first program.

I’m not sure why I find this so frustrating. I think a big part of it is having semi-technical people using technical terms that they don’t understand to make themselves look like they have some kind of deep understanding of the world that technology has created. I think it also creates a tendency to look the wrong way for solutions, which is to say that it looks for technical solutions to problems created by power-imbalances of which one is certainly a beneficiary if one has the luxury to abuse the idea of algorithms so thoroughly.

I think this is also why I have always loathed the institution of TED Talks. It seems like the whole institution is aimed at finding creative solutions in order to avoid investigating the root causes of problems. These are always precisely the wrong people to address important issues.

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