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Oct
25

“Summoning the demon”

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Technology has a momentum all its own. It has a tendency to take us places before we consider whether they are places we need to or ought to go.

From the realms of my fuzzy memory: Twenty years ago I caught a noon broadcast by Paul Harvey on my car radio. A wealthy California couple had been killed when their small plane crashed. The childless couple had been trying to have a baby through in vitro fertilization. Their efforts remained frozen in a refrigerator at the fertility clinic. As the news reached the public, selfless local women were coming forward and volunteering to carry to term the heirs to the couple’s millions.

I laughed all the way home about technology getting out ahead of our ethics.

Yesterday at the MIT Aeronautics and Astronautics department’s Centennial Symposium, tech entrepreneur Elon Musk offered a darker tale about the development of artificial intelligence:

I think we should be very careful about artificial intelligence. If I were to guess like what our biggest existential threat is, it’s probably that. So we need to be very careful with the artificial intelligence. Increasingly scientists think there should be some regulatory oversight maybe at the national and international level, just to make sure that we don’t do something very foolish. With artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon. In all those stories where there’s the guy with the pentagram and the holy water, it’s like yeah he’s sure he can control the demon. Didn’t work out.

The classic formulation of that warning comes from a one-page, short story by Fredric Brown, titled “Answer,” from Angels and Spaceships (1954). After finally networking computers from ninety-six billion planets, the lead scientist puts the first question to the new supercomputer: “Is there a God?”

The mighty voice answered without hesitation, without the clicking of single relay.

“Yes, now there is a God.”

Sudden fear flashed on the face of Dwar Ev. He leaped to grab the switch.

A bolt of lightning from the cloudless sky struck him down and fused the switch shut.

Around the coffee urn at the NSA, they must think, “How cool is that?”

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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Oct
21

Warren on message

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Not unlike ghosts in The Sixth Sense, The Village hears just what it wants to. Itself, mostly, and the jangle of coins. The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson hears in Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts something different, something many Democratic politicians lack: a clear message.

Stumping for Democrats across the country, Warren has a powerful message that ordinary persons can hear if the Village cannot. Like South Dakotan Rick Weiland’s
prairie populism
, Warren (born in Oklahoma) gets traction from a populist narrative:

There once was consensus on the need for government investment in areas such as education and infrastructure that produced long-term dividends, she said. “Here’s the amazing thing: It worked. It absolutely, positively worked.”

But starting in the 1980s, she said, Republicans took the country in a different direction, beginning with the decision to “fire the cops on Wall Street.”

“They called it deregulation,” Warren said, “but what it really meant was: Have at ’em, boys.”

Americans who have been had by the boom-and-bust economy that resulted (and which Democrats abetted) are tired of being lectured about pulling themselves up by their bootstraps by a Wall Street elite wearing golden parachutes. Warren says plainly what the faltering middle class knows in its gut, “The game is rigged, and the Republicans rigged it.” Warren is ready to fight when it seems many Democrats — including the incumbent president — just want to go along to get along.

Robinson writes:

So far this year, Warren has published a memoir, “A Fighting Chance,” that tells of her working-class roots, her family’s economic struggles, her rise to become a Harvard Law School professor and a U.S. senator, and, yes, her distant Native American ancestry. She has emerged as her party’s go-to speaker for connecting with young voters. She has honed a stump speech with a clear and focused message, a host of applause lines and a stirring call to action.

A Democratic candidate with a stirring message derailed Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid eight years ago, Robinson concludes. It might just happen again.

The Village parachute riggers are on notice.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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Oct
05

Sunday Morning Music

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Had a great time yesterday at Blue Ridge Pride!

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Aug
31

Round and Around

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Hipster Wheel

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Aug
16

Quiet car trips home

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The following is a crosspost from nevernesters.com

On the Sunday Arielle and I got back from Texas we stayed over at her sister and brother-in-law’s house in Charlotte, grilled out, had beers and played with their pair of boys, who are four and two. They’ve got a great guest set-up, do my Charlotte in-laws, with a big private room downstairs. When we sleep over, we invariably awaken to the commotion upstairs: a Battle of Britain-level bombardment enacted by stampeding toddler feet.

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Aug
06

Enough with the altar calls

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I got into a bit of an internet tussle after referring to Dr. Barber’s sermon in Asheville and mentioning that altar call aspect of his speech. Someone corrected me, saying that it was not in fact either a sermon or an altar call.

But I am not convinced of that, and despite the obvious good things that the Moral Monday movement has accomplished in terms of publicity and enthusiasm, I feel like it plays into an aspect of politics that is a long term loser for the Democratic side.

It’s not that I don’t like his kind of theater. I appreciate Reverend Barber, and also admire the folks who support him. He’s doing a good thing. To a point.

My issue is that this kind of appeal to emotion, phrasing political arguments in terms of subjective behavioral observations leaves too much room for the other side to dismiss the argument, because it is always easy to discredit the other side’s opinion.
Unless it can be also made into an intellectual argument, steering away from emotional appeals, it is just another form of church, where we all congregate and congratulate ourselves for being better than they are. That’s never going to work, and in fact is probably one of the largest things wrong with the world right now.

Rather than insinuating that our side is morally superior to the other side, as objectively real as that may be, the way to make real progress is to demonstrate that the policies of the other side simply do not work and consistently create results that are objectively, demonstrably and measurably bad for far more people than those who might benefit. Facts. Just plain facts. A torrent of facts.

I want to see people chaining themselves to the Governor’s desk, not because he’s morally repugnant, but because his policies are mathematically repugnant.

Lots of people out there are voting against their own interests on a consistent basis because they can’t bring themselves to identify emotionally with liberalism. They can’t get past social issues, issues that are always about emotional appeals to moral superiority. It plays right into the gridlock.

Our group catharsis and the momentary high we get from it are not worth the resulting alienation of other groups who look at the display and instantly begin fighting against it. We need to take that away from the other side because it is one of the only things left that works for them.

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I have long been wary of the fetish among the business and political classes for efficiency. It’s a frequent rationale for bureaucratic decisions that seem to come at the expense of living, breathing people.

A Good Read

Thomas Frank (“What’s the Matter with Kansas?”) speaks with Barry Lynn at Salon on the reemergence of monopolies in America. Lynn describes how, rather than overturning laws on the books for decades, the Reagan administration changed the way the laws regulating monopolies were enforced.

Yes, that was what was so brilliant about what they did. The Department of Justice establishes guidelines that detail how regulators plan to interpret certain types of laws. So the Reagan people did not aim to change the antimonopoly laws themselves, because that would have sparked a real uproar. Instead they said they planned merely to change the guidelines that determine how the regulators and judiciary are supposed to interpret the law.

The Justice Dept. went from raising its eyebrows in the 1960s at mergers that concentrated a few percent of a market to waving though deals involving 80-90% of it.

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Jun
06

D-Day

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This is a cross-post from NeverNesters (www.nevernesters.com)

 

Arielle and I tend to get a little roller-coastery on the question of spawning, but taking a long view you’d pretty much have to say declines have led advances. For long luxurious periods of our marriage we’ve enjoyed a warm relationship with the idea of never procreating. In fact we bought this very Web address back in 2012, I think.

The goal was to carve out a space wherein the intentionally childless could explore their condition. Seemed to us that more and more like-minded folks were making that decision. We were thinking big with the concept.  Read More→

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May
08

Osama [hearts] Whitney

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The following is a crosspost from www.nevernesters.com 

 

Last week Arielle and I went to go see Transcendence. It was larky, this expedition: we’d never heard of the movie and knew nothing about it save “Johnny Depp” and “sci-fi.” It SUCKED!

But this post is not meant simply to harangue Transcendence (a movie whose tag line could’ve been: In which a man stuck in a big flat screen TV engineers nanites that don’t get mean exactly, but sort of do!) I have bigger fish to fry. The fish is Hollywood’s depiction of bad guys, these days. And actually, now that I think about it, it’s also Hollywood’s depictions of good guys. I guess in general the fish I’m frying (probably more sautéing, honestly, in a little butter, because I heart movies enduringly and heart Hollywood and heart capital “c” Creatives) is Hollywood, which for the purposes of this screed I will call H-Wood, so as not to have to look plainly in the face the object of my abuse.  Read More→

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The following is a crosspost from www.nevernesters.com

 

There’s an essay by Jedediah Purdy in the new n+1  that I found difficult and a little embarrassing but really, really worthwhile. I didn’t know who he was. His political consciousness struck mine like the mallet striking the big damn gong.

At 24, Purdy wrote a book (For Common Things) that made a case for “structural politics” (as opposed to ideology politics and personality politics). He called for radical imagination. He maintained that the foundational tenets of neoliberalism could be got out from underneath of. (Chief among them being the slavish worship of the free market and the ubiquitous, smothering and pre-emptive surrender to the idea that things are crappy but, hey, they’re as good as we can expect.)  Read More→

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