Of Trumps and tweens and blastocysts


New Yorker tells the sad tale of the latest failed experiment in AI. Apparently (I missed it), Microsoft last week rolled out a twitter bot named Tay:

Tay is an artificial intelligent chat bot developed by Microsoft’s Technology and Research and Bing teams to experiment with and conduct research on conversational understanding. Tay is designed to engage and entertain people where they connect with each other online through casual and playful conversation. The more you chat with Tay the smarter she gets, so the experience can be more personalized for you.

Tay is targeted at 18 to 24 year old in the US.

Uh-oh. You don’t have to be Mary Shelley to see where this is going. After barely a day of “consciousness,” Microsoft pulled Tay’s plug.

Anthony Lydgate explains:

Why didn’t Microsoft know better? Plop a consciousness with the verbal ability of a tween and the mental age of a blastocyst into a toxic, troll-rich environment like Twitter and she’s bound to go Nazi. (This is particularly the case if she presents as a young woman, the trolls’ favorite quarry.) Why not encode her, as we humans usually try to encode our offspring, with an aversion to words like “whore” and “kike”—both of which Tay used, in tweets subsequently deleted by Microsoft? The answer is that her creators seem to have tried.

Tay simply didn’t remain well-adjusted in that environment. As the Onion piece pointed out last week, well-adjusted humans seem on the brink of extinction and don’t fare well outside the preserve. Lygate writes of Tay, “She had more negative social experiences between Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning than a thousand of us do throughout puberty. It was peer pressure on uppers, “yes and” gone mad. No wonder she turned out the way she did.”

Speaking of the verbal ability of a tween and the mental age of a blastocyst, consider Donald Trump, another heavy user of Twitter. It’s not even worth bothering anymore to fact-check the man. “Trump has successfully made language irrelevant,” writes Eldar Sarajlic, political philosopher and an adjunct assistant professor at CUNY LaGuardia.

Trump highlights an important distinction between lies and bullshit. At Salon, Sarajlic cites philosopher Harry Frankfurt’s essay “On Bullshit”. If bullshit is “a form of communication aimed to obscure the matter of facts being discussed by using the words that are neither necessarily true nor false,” bullshit artist makes a better descriptor for Donald trump than liar. Trump knows little about the affairs of the government he is running to lead. He’s not even trying hard to hide it with lies. Trump compensates with bullshit.

And that is revelatory. “What he hides is, therefore, not the mere irrelevance of truth, but more important, the crucial relevance of instinct for politics.” That is, for a “centuries-old tradition in American politics,” contra Jefferson, that some men are more equal than others and “fit to rule, while others should obey.”

This is where Trump’s aversion for “political correctness” backfires and has the GOP leadership apoplectic, not his past liberal dalliances. Sarajlic writes:

But, a more likely reason for the mainstream conservative opposition to Trump than this is the fact that he threatens to reveal the true face of American conservative politics. Namely, the bullshit he produces every day has only so much success in hiding what lies beneath: the deeply embedded instinct for racial and economic domination, white over black, rich over poor. This deep structure rises to the surface at every Trump rally, whenever a mass of his supporters gathers together. Hands raised to a Nazi salute, beatings of blacks, journalists and dissenters are the flip side of the bullshit rhetoric. Basically, Trump threatens to reveal something most conservative politicians are trying to hide: that American conservatism is not an ideology of limited government or public virtue, but as Corey Robin argues, a “mode of counterrevolutionary practice” to preserve hierarchy and power of white and rich elites over non-white and poor masses.

Digby yesterday cited Josh Marshall’s essay on Trump’s “dominance politics” and where it comes from. Trump’s “misogyny” is not hatred of women, per se, but for strong women violating the natural order, as he (and many followers) sees it. In that order, Trump must be “at the top at all times.” Hence his Twitter obsession with Megyn Kelly, a Fox commentator and former attorney disinclined to bow before him, and a teaser for what may come. Marshall writes:

It now seems very likely that Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee and that he will face Hillary Clinton, the first woman ever to be the presidential nominee of a major US political party. If Trump is driven by a contempt and anger at female power at his core that is a pretty big thing in itself … This is, to put it mildly, a highly combustible situation.

Sen. Bernie Sanders pulled a hat trick last night, winning (shall we say) dominating victories over Clinton in Democratic caucuses in Washington, Alaska and Hawaii. Should those and his other primary wins not carry the day in Philadelphia, Trump will face Hillary Clinton this fall, as Marshall observes. If so, that’s a pay-per-view waiting to happen.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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