The Great Wall of Rejections

They just don’t want what I’m selling.

They being the myriad of literary magazines I have sent my work to countless times, from [PANK] to Tin House to subTerrain to Carve. Short stories and poems, quiet reflections.

The publications boast several different nationalities and styles, graced with teams of editors that have decades on me. They’re inaugurated. They’re in the industry. They’ve got something I don’t.

That has to be something that I can handle, lest the jealousy render me motionless. At a certain point it becomes necessary to roll straight toward rejection motivated only with the knowledge that if I stop moving it’s forever.

Conservative estimates tell me that I will be rejected for publication at least eighty times before my work is published, with many authors pushing one hundred. I repeat the mantra to manage this mass of unpaid labor in cover letters written with love, in hours of research, in the inevitable of rejection.

They just don’t want what I’m selling.

There is comfort in accepting the negative, pushing forward with the expectation of nothing. Habitual rejection has become the norm, haplessly dotted with a few merciful moments.

I printed out my rejection emails in Times, the titles of the magazines bold in Impact. Cut them up slim. Arranged them above my workspace, all of those words that almost were, those apologetic emails talking about the idiosyncratic nature of editors or the volume of submissions. With each new rejection I am one step closer to acceptance, right on cue at the eightieth attempt.


Sexual Harassment of Artificial Intelligence: How Programmers are Pushing Back

Robotics is one of the fastest growing fields worldwide, with various forms of artificial intelligence being developed with the primary goal of aiding humans in one way or another. This mirrors software development that we have already grown accustomed to: such as Siri, online bots, and the common GPS system. These programs are capable of learning, whether the information is as simple as an address or as complex as a social interaction.

Robotics has made enormous gains since its first sinister introduction to the public in the 1927 film Metropolis.Within this film, a robot is designed to replace Maria, an insurrectionary worker attempting to overthrow the factory owner. The robot’s sole purpose is to destroy the credibility of Maria and turn the workers against her, thereby maintaining social order.

In this film, the motions and expressions of the robotic Maria are twitchy and inhuman even by archaic film standards. Above all else, this underlines the primary problem most people have with artificial intelligence. Aspects of robotics or artificial intelligence can now pass as human, but there is a part of it that isn’t quite right.

Which is where human bias steps in when it comes to human perception of artificial intelligence, the lack of smooth emotional communication.

AI software has gotten to the point where it has become advanced enough to learn and premeditate your needs, however there is still a component missing when communicating with programs such as Siri: that of emotionality. This makes sense, as the developments have come predominantly from a male-dominated field which holds traditional values such as logical thinking, utility, and a lack of emotionality. Not to mention that most AI software we have come to know and love such as Siri, Microsoft’s Ms. Dewey, Cortana, chatterbox TayAI, and now robot receptionist Nadine in Singapore or robot receptionist Aiko Chihara in Tokyo.

Katherine Cross from The Establishment observes that in all of these cases the voice and personality of these programs is distinctly feminine-coded. Soft spoken even under abuse, polite, cheerful, and most of all subservient, these developments in artificial intelligence reflect male desires of the perfect woman. As detailed in this article, and something we can gather by observing any group of boys wielding technology, these programs are subject to inappropriate anger and sexual comments from their users due to the mere fact of their feminine voices. However, they are unable to retort, only apologizing for their misunderstanding due to programming limitations.

What this reflects is a problematic assumption on the part of male users that sexual harassment is okay under these circumstances, because the program is not a “real person.” However there is a clear danger of these thinking patterns spilling over into interactions with women in daily life, as they clearly consider the behavior to be acceptable, so long as it is directed at something the user considers an object of his desire.

To combat the problematic implications of this behavior, certain programmers are developing robots that could retort when subject to abuse. This decision on the part of Microsoft to program Cortana to not allow herself to be sexually abused is something that has already received objection from male users, whose primary goal seems to be not analyzing the underpinnings of sexual harassment in society, but defending themselves by claiming that they personally would never talk to a real person in such a manner.

While this does not combat the underlying issue of male users seeing themselves as having an unalienable right to harass feminine-coded programs, the step is nonetheless an important move on the part of a male-dominated tech industry to counteract misogynistic behavior. Only time will tell if the trend will continue, but here’s hoping.

Essays for the Chinese Academic Diaspora

Essays for the Chinese Academic Diaspora

Through an established company, I write an average of four academic essays every week, totaling generally around ten to fifteen pages. Our clientele is completely Chinese, with the general consensus that the manner essays are written in China is vastly different from the analytical, hyper-structured style common in the United States. Or New Zealand. Or the United Kingdom. Or any other Western school.

Essays in China tend to value items such as storytelling finesse, artistic use of words, and professors judge regarding the overall beauty of their finished project. This contrasts starkly with the highly regimented, formulaic approach Western academia has taken. The vast difference between these two approaches to essays should be no surprise given Chinese isolationist tendencies and difference structurally between America’s phonetic vocabulary contrasted with China’s symbolic.

In regards to our clients, I have nothing but the utmost respect for them, because they’re managing to do something brave and terrifying. Almost all are international students who have managed the gargantuan task of becoming somewhat proficient in the English language and been accepted to study abroad. The schools they attend range from Harvard to Arizona State University, from University of California Berkeley to the University of Aukland, and beyond. Meanwhile, I only have fluency in a single language and a grab bag of phrases in several others.

Out of all the questions friends and family ask about my job, the most common is: “Can’t they just write the essays themselves?”

The short answer is obviously, “Well they could, but then myself and everyone who works with me would be out of a job.” But the longer answer is more nuanced than that.

Most college or University students have at one time or another encountered an international student. Lauded by the administration to represent diversity in the student body, considered somewhat of a mythical presence by the less travelled students around them, and somewhat out of their element.

Chinese students represent a growing minority in student politics, a presence that has taken a sharp increase in recent years. Students in China are trained under a regimented academic system that values dedication, humility, and the ability to continue working from the early morning to late into the night. Under these values, Chinese students are not defined by an unwillingness to work and achieve. But they are highly competitive, and their willingness to succeed in their academic environment goes beyond something many Westerners can understand.

Many students continue placing orders into the writing system well into the summer, evidence of their willingness to continue in their studies when many have stopped for the season. The bulk of these come from Chinese students located in United States universities, where students come to escape the rigidity of the Chinese system.

Most recent data from the 2013-2014 academic year shows that over 274,000 Chinese international students chose US schools. Chosen so they can decide their own course of study. Chosen so they have the freedom to work wherever they choose following their graduation.

While this may be considered by many to be a violation of academic standards, how they choose to use the material they request is up to them. I remain along for the ride, absorbing coursework on everything from finance to urban planning to modern politics in Tibet.