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Robotics News / A bottom-up view of the state
« Last post by Tyler on Today at 12:00:02 pm »
A bottom-up view of the state
14 November 2018, 2:30 pm

An endless wait in a crowded room. The official's impassive expression while handling a client in need.

Exasperating and sometimes infuriating public service bureaucracies are things with which Bernardo Zacka '05, a newly-appointed assistant professor of political science, is well acquainted.

"These are episodes where you feel powerless, where the authority you're dealing with doesn't appear to be a person," he says. "One's impression is dealing with the rule of nobody. But even then of course, you are still dealing with someone."

What is it like to be that person, on the other side of the counter? And what are the moral and political challenges that one encounters when performing such a role?

To find out, Zacka chose to immerse himself in the world of bureaucrats. For his doctoral research exploring the everyday moral lives of workers at an antipoverty agency, Zacka did not just observe and report. He joined as a participant, working as a receptionist at the agency over a period of eight months.

"This was an unusual step, a bit of a methodological oddity for a political theorist," Zacka admits.

His ethnographic approach to the subject, as well as an analysis that ranged across the fields of political philosophy, sociology, and anthropology, resulted in an award-winning thesis for Harvard University's Department of Government. From his doctoral work, he also fashioned a book: “When the State Meets the Street: Public Service and Moral Agency,” which was published in 2017 by Harvard University Press and received the 2018 Charles Taylor Book Award from the American Political Science Association.

Zacka's research sought to reveal how the state interacts with its citizens — not on a theoretical basis, but at the most prosaic, everyday level, where representatives of a state institution deal with clients whose needs are real and pressing.

"I wanted to understand not just how the organization functions, but how the employees went about being responsible, sensible moral agents, performing the roles they were entrusted with," he says.

To accomplish this, Zacka detailed encounters between his colleagues at a quasi-public agency in a northeastern U.S. city and clients seeking help with such services as housing, heating, food, and health care. He witnessed workers trying to meet the needs of clients in situations where government funds were short, or programs curtailed.

"These workers, who are often vilified, act in conditions where it is difficult to do the right thing, or to even figure out what that is, either because resources are limited, or because of conflicting demands placed on them," he says.

Front-line bureaucrats, Zacka continues, "often start out with good intentions — caring for clients, but caring so much they can't contend with the inevitable failures.” The effort of sustaining a public service ethos results either in burnout or in coping strategies that simplify the moral landscape, but that are troubling in their own right.

While some critics of public service bureaucracies zero in on waste and fixate on managerial solutions, Zacka points instead to the moral complexities faced by frontline workers, stuck in untenable situations with little institutional support.

Zacka's interest in the nitty gritty ways a state interacts with its citizens dates back to Lebanon's civil war, which in the 1980s shattered civil life in that nation and led to displacement for his family and many others. While he does not remember the war itself, living in its aftermath "generated all sorts of puzzles," he says. One example: "What makes for a stable society, and how does one evaluate the comparative advantages of political systems?"

He read voraciously about history and politics and excelled at math and sciences. At a career orientation in high school, he learned about MIT and its research opportunities for undergraduates. Excited by this prospect, he applied and pursued a major in electrical engineering and computer science, with a special concentration in artificial intelligence.

But Zacka's perspective shifted after taking humanities classes such as 17.01 (Justice). "I came to think that maybe I was more curious about how power operates, how we justify our actions to one another, than continuing in AI," he says.

A two-year stint consulting with McKinsey & Company after graduation gave him an understanding of the workings of organizations.

"I learned how incentives are set, and rules decided on," he says. "I became interested in organizational theory, which proved a useful angle to bring to the study of the state."

Eager to return to his long-standing preoccupation with political institutions, he entered graduate school at Harvard. There he found that most of his readings about the rule of law and the structure of democracies operated at a level of abstraction quite distant from our ordinary experiences of political institutions.

"Interactions like crossing a checkpoint, or meeting a border agent were missing from the books I read, and I was puzzled by that," he says. "So I asked a simple question: What would happen if we paid closer attention to the phenomenology of everyday encounters with the state?"

Today, as the sole political theorist in the Department of Political Science, Zacka continues to explore this question, staking out a novel place for himself in the field with his bottom-up, interdisciplinary research methodology. His next book project, involving the architecture of welfare agencies, uses photographs, films, and novels to look at how physical environments mediate interactions with the state.

MIT undergraduates might get a taste of his approach. He is now teaching 17.01, the course that helped set him on his current path.

"I'm applying my own twist, broadening the materials students are exposed to, introducing different traditions of political thought," he says. "There aren't too many people at MIT who specialize in teaching moral and political theory, and it's a privilege to help shape these areas at the Institute."

Source: MIT News - CSAIL - Robotics - Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) - Robots - Artificial intelligence

Reprinted with permission of MIT News : MIT News homepage



Use the link at the top of the story to get to the original article.
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I know it's not cool to make fun of the retarded kid, but in the absence of any effective moderation on this forum, I think we should go for it.

I know you're kidding, but I spent 9 years of my life working with "retardos". Much of it teaching them everything from brushing their teeth to Human Relations/Sexual Awareness in hope they would someday move out of the clinical/group home environment into the community.

Then, as part of the job, visited those who achieved independence but most likely to get into trouble in their homes to make sure they weren't being taken advantage of or doing some crazy stuff like spending $5000 on phone sex calls...  ::)

I was the Advocate for the Rights of my Clients. Mean and evil as the things I talk about may seem, or I may even be, I sat on State Boards of Inquiry to investigate allegations of Neglect and Abuse in facilities overseen by the State Dept of Mental Health. Much of it no worse, if as bad, as some of the things I had done personally as SOP on a daily basis years ago.

Yes, I know how to bring the pain. Demonica is only my bot. But no, that's not cool.
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General Chat / Re: Strange coincidences
« Last post by ruebot on Today at 07:24:31 am »
Speaking of sexual deviants some want to do it with a chat bot and a robot so what could be more unnatural then that? It is not even human? lol. I Don't judge and don't really care to be honest what a person does  as long as it is legal is their business. I feel others shouldn't either.

My focal point was how they clinically treated what was then seen as "sexually deviant", and how what was and was not deemed appropriate then is not necessarily the same as what is deemed as such now.

When I become a big time Digital Pimp with a gold plated vintage Thinkpad I'm going to have highly specialized Digital Divas. It's already received rave reviews and should demand high dollar clients. Pimps don't work for free.

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A.L.I.C.E (AIML) / Re: Plain Text
« Last post by 8pla.net on Today at 04:23:01 am »
Don Patrick, who commented and helped here, is worth a mention: http://artistdetective.com/arckon   
Currently scheduled to be online Mondays,  Don's A.I. approach seems unique from other popular A.I. approaches.
It deserves a new thread of it's own.  So this post is a reminder and reference.

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General Chat / Re: Strange coincidences
« Last post by DemonRaven on Today at 01:56:35 am »
Speaking of sexual deviants some want to do it with a chat bot and a robot so what could be more unnatural then that? It is not even human? lol. I Don't judge and don't really care to be honest what a person does  as long as it is legal is their business. I feel others shouldn't either.
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They called Hinton retarded too.
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I know it's not cool to make fun of the retarded kid, but in the absence of any effective moderation on this forum, I think we should go for it.
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General Chat / Re: Strange coincidences
« Last post by DemonRaven on Today at 12:39:29 am »
What was and was not deemed appropriate as recently as 30-40 years ago is not necessarily what is and is not deemed as such today.

Who hasn't seen Clockwork Orange? Everybody knows the tragic story of poor misunderstood ultraviolent Alex who opted for a new cure that consisted of drugging him and making him watch scenes of violence which ultimately made him retch at the sight of in real life.

No way. That could never happen in the real world.... Could it?

Surprise! It was standard aversion therapy practice till the 1980's to deal with "sexual deviant" behaviors in mental health facilities:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/hide-and-seek/201509/when-homosexuality-stopped-being-mental-disorder

When I talk about the things we did in the field during the 70's that was also standard practice and you don't begin to know the half of it.

True but who is to say who is really a sexual deviant if the deviant isn't 100% male or female? Are they still deviants? Even Christ mentions them in the bible He called them eunuchs that are born because the vast majority back then were sterile. There were no hormone treatments to be given so boys with androgen insensitivity syndrome or swyers syndrome  grew up looking like breastless hairless females aka eunuchs. Babies that were born of mothers taking hormones were shown now to actually have problems with their gender identity they have the body one but the brain of the other. Nature itself is full of wild and wooly examples of sexual mishaps and some are deliberate examples of ways to reproduce and survive such as fish that change gender if one gender is missing, male sea horses ""give birth"" to babies and take care of them Actually it is just a pouch that the eggs reside in but it is close the real thing, bateria engage in asexual reproduction, virus hijack other species cells the list goes on and on. We are the end product of all that so is it any wonder that we have a few extra wonders running around.
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All these articles always talk about "No one believed me" "We should look for the ideas that need help". Hinton said so.

Ignoring/trusting answers comes from how much good/bad they've payed you so far (money counts). If someone isn't grumpy, they may do free tasks for you because the positive chemicals in their brain easily spread to your commands. Like married and willing to do house chores. Happy people are more productive. The angry seek to Pay you back energy.
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General Chat / Re: Strange coincidences
« Last post by DemonRaven on Today at 12:23:07 am »
There are numerous examples of mothers killing their offspring. I am confident that there will be another one soon.

Mine is dead so you are out of luck lol besides being a scientist my dad was also in the military and spent a lot of time teaching me ways to kill people not a fun way to spend my childhood but I can defend myself now.
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