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Content-Free Speech

Mark Edwards
12-08-2005

Many of you, being part of, or affiliated with, large organisations, will be familiar with the concept of content-free speech. For those who are not, it is a body of text that whilst appearing to say something, actually says nothing at all.



The favoured language of spin doctors, content-free speech appears with monotonous regularity in company reports at all levels.



It is the padding that makes a document or speech appear impressive without adding any meaning or commiting the author or speaker to any action.



Our politicians are expert and adept at making content-free speeches.



In a recent hilarious twist, three MIT graduate students, wrote a program to generate nonsensical computer-science research papers. Their program allows you to generate plausible sounding text. The program performed so well that one of its fake papers was accepted for presentation at the WMSCI 2005 computer-science conference, apparently because nobody bothered to try to understand it.



The students justify their actions as a response to conferences that exist only to earn conference fees like, they say, WMSCI. Once the conference organisers learned they had been fooled, they rescinded their acceptance of the paper and the associated invitation to speak.



In an interesting postscript to this story, the 3 students solicited donations, originally to attend the conference and present their fake paper. When their invitation was cancelled, they presented their paper in the same venue where the conference was held, along with 2 other randomly generated papers and videotaped the results which they made available online at:

pdos.csail.mit.edu/scigen/#talks



For a stark contrast between content-free and real speech I invite you to compare the annual reports of many major listed Australian companies with the annual reports of Warren Buffet's organisation. These are available from his no-frills corporate website:

www.berkshirehathaway.com/



Warren certainly doesn't believe in wasting money on dressing up and spin doctoring either his website or his addresses to shareholders.



Very refreshing.

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