The Philosophy of Bullsh*t and How To Avoid Stepping In It

Press releases are the lifeblood of journalist enterprise. These let editors and writer know when something new happens or a new product is launched at a company we are interested. For me, these were more important when I worked at magazines. Even now they help when I hear about something and I want the company’s words describing what they are up to.

We quickly learn which are the companies and the PR people we can trust and listen to and which send either off-target things or fill their prose with fluff. A friend once ran a “PR Hall of Shame” with the worst examples of press releases. I told him he was a bit off the mark. Usually the culprit is not the professional PR person. Look instead to the marketing manager or the business owner for the culprit who packs as much vague and meaningless jargon as possible into the prose.

With that background and context, I introduce an article from one of my favorite sites—Big Think. A philosopher’s guide to detecting nonsense and getting around it by Scotty Hendricks.

  • A professor in Sweden has a bold on idea on what BS, pseudoscience, and pseudophilosophy actually are. 
  • He suggests they are defined by a lack of “epistemic conscientiousness” rather than merely being false. 
  • He offers suggestions on how to avoid producing nonsense and how to identify it on sight. 

There is a lot of BS going around these days. Fake cures for disease are being passed off by unscrupulous hacks, the idea that the world is flat has a shocking amount of sincere support online, and plenty of people like to suggest there isn’t a scientific consensus on climate change. It can be hard to keep track of it all.

Even worse, it can be difficult to easily define all of it in a way that lets people know what they’re encountering is nonsense right away. Luckily for us, Dr. Victor Moberger recently published an essay in Theoria on what counts as bullsh*t, how it interacts with pseudoscience and pseudophilosophy, and what to do about it.

The essay “Bullshit, Pseudoscience and Pseudophilosophy” considers much of the nonsense we encounter and offers a definition that allows us to move forward in dealing with it.

Dr. Moberger argues that what makes something bullshit is a “lack of epistemic conscientiousness,” meaning that the person arguing for it takes no care to assure the truth of their statements. This typically manifests in systemic errors in reasoning and the frequent use of logical fallacies such as ad hominem, red herring, false dilemma, and cherry picking, among others.

This makes bullsh*t different from lying, which involves caring what the truth is and purposely moving away from it, or mere indifference to truth, as it is quite possible for people pushing nonsense to care about their nonsense being true. It also makes it different from making the occasional mistake with reasoning, occasional errors differ from a systemic reliance on them.

I think this professor is generous, but also he has put his finger on the correct pulse. What do you think?

7 Tech Investments Critical To Building ‘Intelligent Factories’

Raghav Saghal, President of Nokia Enterprise, Nokia, wrote a blog post on the World Economic Forum site positing seven critical investments for post-Covid intelligent factories.

The problem began with the Covid-19 outbreak disrupting supply chains and business continuity plans. Other challenges included running essential functions and business continuity plans for normal operations, giving workers safe physical access to sites and coping with a much-reduced workforce, and ensuring the timely support, supply and successful delivery of essential equipment.

We’ve been talking digital transformation and adopting digital technologies. Here Saghal draws some lessons.

Those looking to build resilience into their own manufacturing processes, must invest in capabilities that bring forth the best of IT and OT convergence. To this end, Nokia leveraged the following capabilities:

1. Guaranteeing resilience. Uninterrupted, low-latency connectivity of mobile assets and devices is key to delivering reliable digital communications. This was achieved using our own Digital Automation Cloud, a simple and secure private wireless network platform, and enabler to all other technologies. 

2. Gaining clear, real-time visibility across operations – without having people physically present on-site. We achieved this by recreating in-the-field conditions using exact replicas in lab environments leveraging “digital twins,” helping us test adjacent technologies and anticipate problems before they occurred.

3. Delivering real-time data visibility and visualization. We used automated data tools from our partner ecosystem to manage the huge amounts of data being analyzed every day.

4. Ensuring vital collaboration and decision-making. We used remote collaboration tools including for voice, video and instant messaging to maximize collaboration between and within global teams.

5. Knowing the location of critical assets on the shop floor. Beam telepresence robots on shop floors, steered by staffers at home, allowed for remote views, inspections and surveillance at ‘sending’ and ‘receiving’ factories.

6. Connecting to machines on the shop floor. Standalone surface mount technology (SMT) machines were accessed by experts using telepresence, remote access and collaboration with site-based and home-based workers using remote control application software to enable programming and Nokia’s visual and X-ray inspection.

7. Creating and sharing manual assembly steps. To guarantee quality control, we used virtual reality training to help employees learn assembly steps. 

While the digital transformation journey and business continuity plans for an asset-heavy industry is different than what’s needed for information-based, light-asset industries, planning is still key. In our case, pre-existing technology and workforce investments drove success, empowering and augmenting staff with the leadership, creativity and digital skills needed to successfully execute on existing business continuity plans.

To achieve the digital control and self-orchestration needed to stay buoyant and competitive – both in normal times and post-COVID – network reliability, performance, and predictability must be dramatically elevated across all assets and ecosystems with mission-critical networks and industrial automation solutions. 

Then, and only then, can information and operations technologies converge to deliver enterprise 

Agility is the Key in IIoT

KC Liu, founder and CEO of Advantech, the Taiwan-based electronics company, has always been a sort of philosopher/businessperson. Over the 20 years or so that I’ve followed the company several books have added to my library thanks to him. The company continues to build on its base of Adam I/O modules and industrial computers. But Liu continues to conceive new strategies and technology directions to keep the company fresh and interesting.

On Tuesday, Sept. 22, yes, the first day of autumn, I sat in on a global press conference at 6 am my time followed by a few hours of presentations. And, once again, the companies that provide the infrastructure for virtual conferences and the companies that use them deserve commendation for well-planned and executed events.

Data, cloud, app marketplace, ecosystem, partners, Platform-as-a-Service were key concepts as executives explained where Advantech plays in the IoT market—industrial, smart cities, and more.

“Agile innovation in the area of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) will be the key in driving forward digital transformation in industrial applications into 2021 and beyond,” said Advantech IIoT President, Linda Tsai, to more than 2,000 delegates at the company’s first ever global IIoT Virtual Summit, entitled ‘Connecting Industrial IoT Innovation’.

Ms. Tsai explained: “Figures from IDC suggest that by 2025, there will be 41.6 billion IoT devices in use worldwide, generating 79.4 zettabytes of data. Connected devices will pervade every aspect of our personal and business lives, and a complex mix of technology and infrastructure will be more crucial than ever to harnessing the power of the data generated by these devices. 

“As a leader in embedded computer systems for industrial applications, Advantech is leading the way in developing more powerful edge computing solutions which are compatible with all types of IIoT devices as well as data centers and cloud providers and can aggregate these vast quantities of data, allowing users to optimize operational effectiveness in their facilities.”

Much of Advantech’s pioneering work in this area centers on its strategy of co-creation: collaborating closely with systems integrators and developers to create edge solution-ready platforms (Edge SRP’s) or IApps (Industrial Applications) to make digital transformation as rapid and simple as possible. Advantech can support optimization in areas from iFactory to industrial equipment manufacturing (IEM), industrial AI, smart automation, transportation, energy & environment and iLogistics.

Ms Tsai went on to identify six key technology trends for 2021: digital transformation, 5G, decoupling, device-to-cloud digitalisation, empowered edge and artificial intelligence (AI).

“According to the GSMA Mobile Economy 2019 Report, 5G will contribute more than US$2 trillion to the global economy up to 2035, of which 35 per cent will go to the manufacturing and utilities sectors. Meanwhile, research from MarketsandMarkets estimates the value of AI in the manufacturing at US$17.2 billion by 2025.

“Advantech has developed an extensive portfolio of AI platforms including edge AI systems, sensors and inference servers, as well as deep learning training servers, to assist customers in exploiting the potential of AI. Meanwhile, in the area of device-to-cloud, we are again at the forefront of innovation, with solutions including private cloud solutions, industrial APP, edge intelligence software and cross-platform middleware – all specifically developed to combining optimised computing with robust and reliable performance in even the most demanding environments.”

“There is no getting away from the fact that digital transformation will impact every manufacturer in the world in the years to come, and harnessing the power of data will be critical to competitiveness as we move from Industry 4.0 and towards Industry 5.0. Our global Summit has brought together partners from across the world to find the best ways to collaborate and exploit the power of new and emerging technologies, to optimise efficiency, performance and commercial success.”

Jash Bansidhar, managing director of Advantech Europe, added: ““The macro strategy of driving Industrial IoT development through the adoption of AI, 5G and edge computing is central to the further adoption and exploitation of IoT technologies. Our mission continues to be to work with ecosystem partners to deliver sustainable success in the post-pandemic era.”

GeoTechnology and Manufacturing

I believe that trade has always been “international” in the sense of trading a commodity I have surplus for something I need that someone else has, who could also use my surplus. You can look at the Hebrew Bible for examples. Or documents from China of ancient times. I’ve heard stories of the AnasazisZ¸Z tribe that live for quite some time in the New Mexico/Colorado area.

Often, though, I’ve wondered about trade versus national security. I once had a customer that built tanks for the Army—the M1 Abrams. Always fighting the last war, the Army had them painting all the tanks camouflage. I quoted a robotic system to replace and update that painting line. Then came Desert Storm. The next day they were painting everything “desert sand” and didn’t need the robots. Oh, well.

But I’d think about how our financial geniuses had us moving manufacturing overseas. And I’d wonder, what happens in the next war? If we go to war with the country where our manufacturing moved to, we’d be screwed. What if we built those tanks in another country?

Or look at companies in our industrial technology space like, say, Rockwell Automation who has long ago moved its controller development and manufacturing to Asia. So much of that work is being done in Asia that they moved a Senior VP to Singapore for a while.

Life is full of delicate balances. How to balance the benefits of international trade and national security. We are living through one swing of that pendulum right now. Someday it will swing a different way.

This line of thinking began with an editorial by Gideon Lichfield, editor in chief of MIT Technology Review, who introduced a recent issue of TR:

In the last few decades, the received wisdom among global elites has been that technology tends to make the world flatter, smaller, more open, and more equal. This now seems increasingly false, or at least simplistic. Countries are vying for dominance in technologies that could give them a strategic advantage: communications, energy, AI, surveillance, agricultural tech, cybersecurity, military tech…and now, amidst a global pandemic, medicine and manufacturing. The urge for nations to amass technological prowess and use it as an instrument of geopolitical power is what we mean by technonationalism. The thesis of this issue is that the post-Cold War order was already splintering, and covid-19 is finishing the job.

The biggest driving force in this trend is China’s rise as a tech superpower and the US’s consequent belligerence as its supremacy comes under threat.

We all work in this environment. As we participate in decisions, we have to decide at what point are we an international company (which almost all are) and at what point are we a national company?

It’s complex, but we have to make our way through the complexity to do what’s best for us all.

GeoTechnology Games

I believe that trade has always been “international” in the sense of trading a commodity I have surplus for something I need that someone else has, who could also use my surplus. You can look at the Hebrew Bible for examples. Or documents from China of ancient times. I’ve heard stories of the Anastasi tribe that live for quite some time in the New Mexico/Colorado area.

Often, though, I’ve wondered about trade versus national security. I once had a customer that built tanks for the Army—the M1 Abrams. Always fighting the last war, the Army had them painting all the tanks camouflage. I quoted a robotic system to replace and update that painting line. Then came Desert Storm. The next day they were painting everything “desert sand” and didn’t need the robots. Oh, well.

But I’d think about how our financial geniuses had us moving manufacturing overseas. And I’d wonder, what happens in the next war? If we go to war with the country where our manufacturing moved to, we’d be screwed.

Or look at companies in our industrial technology space like, say, Rockwell Automation who has long ago moved its controller development and manufacturing to Asia. So much of that work is being done in Asia that they moved a Senior VP to Singapore for a while.

Life is full of delicate balances. How to balance the benefits of international trade and national security. We are living through one swing of that pendulum right now. Someday it will swing a different way.

This line of thinking began with an editorial by Gideon Lichfield, editor in chief of MIT Technology Review, who introduced a recent issue of TR:

In the last few decades, the received wisdom among global elites has been that technology tends to make the world flatter, smaller, more open, and more equal. This now seems increasingly false, or at least simplistic. Countries are vying for dominance in technologies that could give them a strategic advantage: communications, energy, AI, surveillance, agricultural tech, cybersecurity, military tech…and now, amidst a global pandemic, medicine and manufacturing. The urge for nations to amass technological prowess and use it as an instrument of geopolitical power is what we mean by technonationalism. The thesis of this issue is that the post-Cold War order was already splintering, and covid-19 is finishing the job.

The biggest driving force in this trend is China’s rise as a tech superpower and the US’s consequent belligerence as its supremacy comes under threat.

We all work in this environment. As we participate in decisions, we have to decide at what point are we an international company (which almost all are) and at what point are we a national company?

It’s complex, but we have to make our way through the complexity to do what’s best for us all.

Universal Platform For The Edge

When there is a message for me on LinkedIn, it’s almost always a recruiter or SEO marketer trying to sell me something. So, there was a pleasant surprise the other day when it was a marketing person for a software company with a new take on the Edge, datacenters, and software. That company is NodeWeaver.

Here is a statement of the problem. Most of the software in the world runs outside of clouds or datacenters—it runs at the edge. But the edge is made of small systems deployed in tens of thousands of locations, in stores, inside industrial systems, on top of telecom towers. Places that may have limited connectivity, or be difficult to reach, all sharing the fact that they run critical systems, and if something stops, your users are not getting services, or production lines grind to a halt. What happens if something fails?

Existing solutions require manual interventions by skilled technicians to resolve problems. They are complex and difficult to manage. They are difficult to scale to thousands of locations. What is needed has the flexibility of the cloud, but the ability to run everywhere, even on the smallest devices, and run without requiring user intervention. 

That’s the idea behind NodeWeaver—a platform that runs any application and manages the distribution, control, and operation thanks to its intelligent autonomous system. Each system learns from what happens on all the others. It becomes smarter the more it expands and able to do more on its own.

NodeWeaver is a software defined operating platform that installs on the bare metal of nearly any x86 hardware and enables the deployment of highly resilient, agile and scalable compute clusters capable of running multiple virtual machines and container-based workloads, optimized for running workloads at the edge fully autonomously, integrating self-management, self-optimizing, self-healing features that dramatically reduces cost of ownership.

NodeWeaver nano clouds consist of 1 to 25 x86 compatible servers of any manufacturer/configuration, from very small to quite large. Connecting a new server to the nano cloud layer 2 switch automatically adds the server components to the virtual resource pool and relevels all applications across the updated server pool. 

NodeWeaver delivers full datacenter infrastructure/functionality, optimized for running workloads at the edge, taking less than 1.3GB of RAM to provide all services, leaving the maximum amount of system resources available for actual workloads. NodeWeaver integrates orchestration, software-defined storage, software-defined networking, multiple hypervisors all managed by the intelligent autonomous system. 

Customers who need to manage a large fleet of deployments already have their own monitoring framework in place. NodeWeaver has a full API that allows them to monitor (and manage) their edge systems using their existing monitoring framework. Tools like Ansible, Puppet, Chef, Terraform, and OneFlow Services are for operating system and application automation and management. NodeWeaver fully supports those as well, via a combination of pre-built Marketplace VMs (in the case of Terraform) or built-in services (OneFlow), or simply via API and network connection. 

The NodeWeaver marketplace enables users to quickly download complete, pre-configured application stacks [including operating system] and service templates, using any of the software products in the catalog, and deploy them with minimal effort; automatically load balanced across nodes in a highly resilient, agile and scalable compute cluster capable of running multiple virtual machines and container-based workloads.

Industrial control systems used to drive production equipment in factories and plants were installed more than 20 years ago and are now becoming outdated, presenting major business challenges. While this infrastructure has provided a stable platform for control systems for many years, it lacks flexibility, requires costly manual maintenance, and does not easily allow process information to be exported and analyzed. Virtualization overcomes the limitations of legacy control systems infrastructure and provides the foundation for the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).

Control functions that were previously deployed across the network as dedicated hardware appliances can be virtualized and consolidated onto commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) servers, which not only leverages the most advanced silicon technology but also reduces capital expenditure, lowers operating costs, reduces risk, and improves ability to manage change and implement continuous improvement.

One of the leading providers of solutions for large-scale industrial laundry systems has been a NodeWeaver customer for over 2 years. They control and monitor all processes, provide predictive analytics, as well as automated deployment and management of all systems.

With no IT staff at these locations, system resiliency and the ability to autonomically address failures and maintain uptime is crucial. Additionally, the environments in these locations are characterized by high temperatures and humidity, thus requiring fanless, ruggedized hardware that can withstand these conditions.

NodeWeaver’s software-only approach provided the flexibility to choose the hardware necessary for the application, and its lightweight codebase enables it to run on smaller devices that competing solutions simply can’t support, equating to an unmatched combination of reliability, flexibility, and time to value.