Monday Miscellany, 4/1/24

Monday Miscellany, 4/1/24 April 1, 2024

These are NOT April Fool’s jokes, though they might seem like it. . .

Church of England group wanting to deconvert African Christians; The end of the internet as we know it; and how to calculate how many people you know.

Church of England Group Wanting to Deconvert African Christians

William Moore asks in The Spectator Is the C of E about to say sorry for Christianity?

A study committee of the Church of England called the “Oversight Group” is calling on the church to apologize for profiting from slavery from investments (never mind that Anglican missionaries by and large fought against slavery).  More than that, though, it called on the church to apologize for “seeking to destroy diverse African traditional religious belief systems.”

Not content with the church apologizing for converting Africans to Christianity (to the point that African Anglicans far outnumber those in the UK and far exceed them in orthodox theology).  The group recommends that the Church of England now  “reach beyond theological institutions” so as to “enable all Africans to discover the varied belief systems and spiritual practices of their forbears and their efficacy.”

So the church that once converted Africans is being called to deconvert them.  That would mean rediscovering varied belief systems and spiritual practices like human sacrifice, wife beating, infanticide–and slavery.

The End of the Internet as We Know It

As we blogged about, Google’s Artificial Intelligence program Gemini was a fiasco at its debut. But it heralds a possible new online  development that could mean, in the words of a Wall Street Journal article on the subject, the “end of the web as we know it.

Presently, you type in a search to Google and you get a link of sources that you can click to find the information you are looking for.  The new horizon in internet searching will use AI to just tell you the information.  You won’t need to scroll through links and keep trying them until you find what you need.  You will just need to ask your question and an AI chatbot will sift through the different sources and tell you in generated language what the answer is.

As Alex Kantrowitz at The Wrap explains it,

Unlike search, which points you to the web, generative AI is the core experience, not a route elsewhere. Using a generative tool like Gemini is a tradeoff. You get the benefit of a seemingly magical product. But you give up control. While you may get answers quickly, or a cool looking graphic, you lose touch with the source material. To use it means putting more trust in giant companies like Google, and to maintain that trust Google needs to be extremely transparent.

But I see a more fundamental problem.  All of those sites currently listed on a Google search depend on the search engines to bring them readers!  They need the readers to give them hits that can translate into advertising revenue!  They need the revenue to pay contributors to provide the information!

If AI kills off the independent sites, what would that do to the internet?  And where will the AI search engine get its information if it puts all information gatherers out of business?

By the way, there is already an AI search engine called Arc, which is trying to do that.  It still gives some links, but it summarizes the information in them.

Do you see a future for this?  When I search, I’m not necessarily looking for a bit of factual information–I can get names and dates on Wikipedia–I’m generally looking for sources, ones that can give me stimulating ideas and fodder for my blog.  Will AI search be the end of the internet as we know it?   And what would that post-AI internet look like?  Just a few monolithic corporations keeping us entertained and controlled?

How to Calculate How Many People You Know

How many people do you know?  Not just friends, but acquaintances.  Or, in the words of a study on the subject, “that you know them and they know you by sight or by name, that you could contact them, that they live within the United States, and that there has been some contact” in the past two years.

You probably know about 611 people.  That’s the national average.  You might wonder, how do the experts know that?

The answer is an ingenious application of statistics.  According to Josh Zumbrun writing in the Wall Street Journal (behind a paywall), the way you can calculate how many people you know is to count the number of “Michaels” you are acquainted with.

We know that people named “Michael” constitute 1% of the population.  Assuming a random distribution, the number of “Michaels” you know should be 1% of the population of people you know.  So multiplying the number of “Michaels” by 100 should give you your total number of acquaintances.

The paper on advanced statistics arguing that this works is available here.  Those who study personal networks can refine and crosscheck their results by factoring in other names.

Try it.  I can think of six “Michaels” or “Mikes” that I know.  That would mean I know 600 people, about the national average.  Although a new member of our church is named “Michael.”  If I get to know him, does that mean I’ll all of a sudden know 100 more people?



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