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Learning How to Code

You may recall that in my previous installment [ ], I mentioned that one of the first “codes” to be made open source were Latin texts. Latin, however, was not one of the first codes to exist.

Inscription of Xerxes the Great near the Van Fortress, written in Old Persian, Elamite and Babylonian [ ]

The text / texts above is / are encoded using Cuneiform, which is generally considered to be one of the earliest examples of written language.

A (written) language which is widely used is perhaps one of the most significant examples of open-source code. Languages evolve “out therein nature. They are not owned by anyone in particular.

This phenomenon (of wide usage) is also quite similar to the statement often referred to as “Linus’s Law”: “given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow” (cf. e.g.’s_law). Likewise, websites like , , etc. are quite often used in ways previous generations might have turned to “The Bible” (“Bible” is a Latin term referring to “books”, so “The Bible” is more or less equivalent to “the books”).

Note how important the role of literacy is in all of this. A person who is not aware of the biases introduced by languages and / or information resources is severely lacking capabilites required to be an informed citizen. This is one of the main reasons I launched “Standard Queries & Utilities” [ ] a while back … so people could exchange information much in the same way that Enlightenment scientists exchanged information about the natural sciences centuries ago.

Let me present you with a rather simple example. Have you ever heard the expression “it’s like night and day”? What do these two words actually refer to? Of course in the metaphorical sense they do not refer to the natural phenomena referred to as “night” and “day”. Yet even these natural phenomena seem rather unclear. They do not merely describe different times, because if it is “night” on some parts of the globe, it is also “day” on other parts of the globe. What about dawn and dusk? Are those neither night nor day? And what about the land of the midnight sun (i.e., the Arctic Circle)? What do the terms “night” and “day” refer to here? The answer seems to be: “it’s complicated“. 😐

Hence, terms which seem very simple and straightforward can turn out to be quite complex. This certainly does not bode well for simplistic algorithms used for many different kinds of so-called “artificial intelligence” (such as machine translation or even automatic information retrieval). Another example: racial profiling is not simply a “black” or “white” issue.


By New Media Works

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