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Elon Musk’s nightmare is way overblown: AI isn’t the demon, people are

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The real world’s closest thing to Tony Stark told the National Governors Association that artificial intelligence (AI) is “summoning the demon.” The Hill reported Elon Musk’s remarks:

“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. Doesn’t work out,” said Musk.

This kind of fear-mongering summons up images of Skynet, or The Matrix, where self-aware machines decide (on their own) to put the muzzle on humans and take away our bite. But the real issue is much more mundane, and it’s related to people, not machines.

A fascinating interview with computer scientist and author Jaron Lanier unpacks the issue in painstaking detail. Lanier’s main point is that American law recognizes corporations as “persons,” capable of executing agency (legal, even moral) that’s typically reserved for individual human beings.

He calls AI “fake” in the sense that, the scary language is constructed as “a layer of religious thinking” of technology removing actual human agency and replacing it with algorithms.

I’ll quote a little bit from it.

Since our economy has shifted to what I call a surveillance economy, but let’s say an economy where algorithms guide people a lot, we have this very odd situation where you have these algorithms that rely on big data in order to figure out who you should date, who you should sleep with, what music you should listen to, what books you should read, and on and on and on. And people often accept that because there’s no empirical alternative to compare it to, there’s no baseline. It’s bad personal science. It’s bad self-understanding.

In other words: big data is based on watching people make choices, and using that data to suggest future choices. It allows Amazon, for instance, to be efficient in they steer consumers to buy items they have in immediate stock by completing your search bar request, then they stock the items bought most. It allows Netflix to be efficient by running with an incredibly small sample of available content (compared to, say, iTunes), but using suggestions to steer watching habits.

The one thing I want to say about this is I’m not blaming Netflix for doing anything bad, because the whole point of Netflix is to deliver theatrical illusions to you, so this is just another layer of theatrical illusion—more power to them. That’s them being a good presenter. What’s a theater without a barker on the street? That’s what it is, and that’s fine. But it does contribute, at a macro level, to this overall atmosphere of accepting the algorithms as doing a lot more than they do. In the case of Netflix, the recommendation engine is serving to distract you from the fact that there’s not much choice anyway.

When you translate these algorithms into more serious real world decisions, they do tend to skew themselves into bias, and maybe that is the problem Musk is worried so much about.

An algorithm that predicts baseball outcomes (there is a whole field on this called Sabermetrics) might suggest the game would be better with a pitch clock, because fans complain that games are too long and getting longer. Sabermetrics is, ironically, responsible in part for the games being longer. But the algorithm doesn’t always account for fans inner preferences: Baseball is an institution that resists change. That’s part of the charm and attraction of the game.

When the pitch clock is implemented, this will surrender some of our human agency to a computer. Like calling balls and strikes, or fair and foul balls, or tennis balls in or out, or touchdowns in the end zone or out of bounds. Measurement and agency can be human things with AI helpers, or they can be AI things with human participants.

Moving even deeper into the “real world” is something Elon Musk knows much about: Self-driving cars. If automobile algorithms can effectively drive (as Google’s can) as well as, or better than, humans, what will happen when an algorithm avoids an accident with a human driver, causing the human driver to hit another driver with injuries or death as the outcome? Is the algorithm responsible for making moral choices of avoiding a baby carriage to hit a bike?

These are human questions, and they do tend to slow down the pace of adoption.

When AI diagnoses illnesses or prioritizes care, certainly hospitals and doctors can feel better about using time and resources more efficiently, but then the biases of those doctors’ choices can be amplified into “bad algorithms” that are not legitimate in the sense of working toward meaningful truth. As Lanier wrote:

In other words, the only way for such a system to be legitimate would be for it to have an observatory that could observe in peace, not being sullied by its own recommendations. Otherwise, it simply turns into a system that measures which manipulations work, as opposed to which ones don’t work, which is very different from a virginal and empirically careful system that’s trying to tell what recommendations would work had it not intervened. That’s a pretty clear thing. What’s not clear is where the boundary is.

Where reality gets closer to Musk’s nightmare is a scenario (a thought experiment) Lanier describes. Let’s say someone comes up with a way to 3-D print a little assassination drone that can buzz around and kill somebody: a cheap, easy to make assassin.

I’m going to give you two scenarios. In one scenario, there’s suddenly a bunch of these, and some disaffected teenagers, or terrorists, or whoever start making a bunch of them, and they go out and start killing people randomly. There’s so many of them that it’s hard to find all of them to shut it down, and there keep on being more and more of them. That’s one scenario; it’s a pretty ugly scenario.

There’s another one where there’s so-called artificial intelligence, some kind of big data scheme, that’s doing exactly the same thing, that is self-directed and taking over 3-D printers, and sending these things off to kill people. The question is, does it make any difference which it is?

Musk, like many technologists with little policy experience, conflates the fact that someone could make this kind of killer tech with the policy issues of making cheap killer drones. Lanier spends a few thousand words delving into the topic (which I won’t do, for the reader’s sake–I’m already way long here).

The key is using smart policy to prevent the end result without throwing away the benefits of AI. It’s the same as baseball, or self-driving cars, or counterfeiting currency. Scanners and color copiers have long had the resolution to produce fairly good counterfeit currency. But legitimate manufacturers have complied with laws that kill attempts to actually do it. Try copying a $20 bill on your scanner.

There’s no reason that certain rules can’t be applied to 3-D printers, or other devices that “make” things in the real world. Or to medical software, or–as a hot-button issue–using AI to recommend sentences and parole for convicted criminals.

Lawmakers and politicians need to be aware of these real issues, and the limitations of AI in replacing human agency. These are the actual problems we face, versus the dystopian Everybody Dies™ apocalyptic warnings by people like Musk.

If Google and Netflix are corporate persons, which in turn own AI algorithms based on human choices, imbued with the power to suggest future choices, that does not foreshadow the end of the world. But it does raise some serious issues. Most of these will take care of themselves (people have a tendency to change faster than algorithms can predict, leading to disappointment with the algorithms).

It’s the legal, human, and social issues raised by AI we need to focus on. In the end, people, not machines, are the demons we summon.

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Judiciary

Jeff Flake has become a punchline

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Jeff Flake has become a punchline

There are conservatives who oppose the President through conscientious means and with discernment of who to support and what to oppose. Then, there are “conservatives” like Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ).

In his final days in the United States Senate, Flake has decided to go out with his conscience intact. At least that’s what he’s telling himself and anyone who would listen. In reality, he’s going out with his middle finger raised to the man he blames the most for his career failures: President Trump.

Flake has threatened to hold up judicial nominations until the Senate votes to protect special counsel Robert Mueller. Let’s set aside the likelihood that such an action by Congress would be unconstitutional with Article 2 giving the President wide powers over the Justice Department. That’s a debate for Constitutional scholars.

Instead, let’s focus on what Flake is actually doing. He’s willing to jeopardize the judicial system which desperately needs an infusion of originalists just to fire a parting blow at the President. That’s really what this comes down to. He’s not obeying his conscience. He’s not protecting Mueller. He’s not trying to right a wrong. He’s being a child.

He’s a punchline.

Even if there was a real threat that President Trump might somehow interfere with the Mueller investigation, this wouldn’t be the way to try to protect him. All Flake is doing is pulverizing the few pieces of his credibility that were left standing.

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Democrats

Good news for the Democrat agenda: McConnell and McCarthy will lead the GOP

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Good news for the Democrat agenda McConnell and McCarthy will lead the GOP

Trumplicans chalked one up for the status quo yesterday when they chose Paul Ryan’s right-hand man, Kevin McCarthy, to be the party leader in the House and unanimously re-elected Mitch McConnell to lead the Senate. Both men were endorsed by Donald Trump for the jobs.

Despite the fact that Republicans suffered the worst mid-term defeat since Watergate, McConnell and McCarthy touted a list of vague GOP accomplishments that conveniently failed to mention the party’s failure to keep their promises, which is why the Democrats won last week.

In an opinion piece for FOX News, McConnell bragged — now try not to laugh — about how the past two years of Republican leadership “will be remembered as a period of historic productivity.” He then challenged the new Democrat majority in the House to put aside partisan politics and work with Republicans to get things done.

Apparently, the concept of irony is lost on McConnell. Outside of the GOP’s alleged success at saving the Supreme Court, Democrats and Republicans have always been working together, which is why they still fund Planned Parenthood, Obamacare, DACA, and sanctuary cities with massive new spending that exploded the budget deficit.

While McConnell and McCarthy have adopted Trump’s “blame the Democrats for my failures” playbook, the sad reality is that Republicans favor the Democrat agenda because it’s their agenda; bipartisanship is a given.

Based on developments during the lame duck session, it’s going to be worse when the 116th Congress opens for business in January.

Nancy Pelosi called last week’s victory a mandate to save Obamacare and she will promote legislation designed to move America closer to a single-payer healthcare system. Trump has a track record of support for Obamacare and he promoted single-payer healthcare during his 2016 campaign.

Following the recent shootings in California, Pelosi announced that she would make gun control a top priority. Trump and the GOP have actively promoted radical gun-control legislation, including: seizing guns without due process, establishing an FBI database to track guns and gun owners, and requiring a license to own a gun.

Now comes word from the Democrats that they will work to bring back a classic of Bernie Sanders and Democratic Socialists — a federal minimum wage of $15 an hour. As expected, Trump appears to be a fan of the idea.

During his 2016 campaign, Trump supported raising the minimum wage to at least $10 and hour. And as part of the recent US-Mexico trade deal, he fought for and won a $16 an hour minimum wage for auto workers on both sides of the border in an effort to price Mexico out of the auto industry. Ironic because he’s essentially admitting that mandatory minimum wages eventually result in lost jobs.

Even thought economic advisor Larry Kudlow recently stated his preference to see the federal minimum wage eliminated, Trump’s history of flip-flopping on this along with a host of other issues, along with his 2020 re-election hopes, means that the Democrats will likely win on the issue.

We were repeatedly told last week to vote Red to make sure we stop the Democrats. But to quote Hillary Clinton during the Benghazi hearings, when it comes to the difference between Republicans and Democrats . . .

“What difference, at this point, does it make?”

 

Originally posted on StridentConservative.com.

 


David Leach is the owner of The Strident Conservative. His daily radio commentary is distributed by the Salem Radio Network and is heard on stations across America.

Follow the Strident Conservative on Twitter and Facebook.

Subscribe to receive podcasts of radio commentaries: iTunes | Stitcher | Tune In | RSS

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Media

To advance conservatism, nobody gets a free pass

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To advance conservatism nobody gets a free pass

Before the midterm elections, most of the writers here spent a good chunk of their copy space helping Republicans in their campaigns. They focused on exposing Democrats for what they are (as well as what they’re becoming) and often turned their back on the negatives associated with Republican candidates.

This was intentional and I allowed it. Like many proponents of limited government, I compare the rhetoric and actions of the two major parties and I see one that’s pushing for big government and another that’s pushing for even bigger government. The fallacies in the Democrats’ proposals are obvious and universal. Republicans have a mix of good and bad; for example, lowering taxes was good, but simultaneously increasing spending was bad.

I allowed the pro-Republican approach because in the world of partisan politics, we’re stuck in a lesser-of-two-evils scenario. While I personally didn’t get involved in party politics and focused my posts on fighting for conservative and limited-government federalist values, I didn’t ask my writers to do the same. Any who chose to promote the Republican agenda, which was most of them, were allowed to do so.

They still can. I’m not censoring anyone. However, I want to be clear about the true purpose of this news site.

We are not a partisan site that is pro-Republican or anti-Democrat. We are a pro-American site that understands the importance of limiting government, defending freedoms, and protecting life, plus many other ideas that are usually associated with conservatism and/or classical liberalism.

Now that the election is over, we are relaunching our GoFundMe page.

Getting donations during campaign season was tough, but now we’re ready to accept help. We need it.

The description of our site on GoFundMe encapsulates what we are.

Our society is rapidly deteriorating into helplessness. Ideas such as self-governance, conservatism, patriotism, personal responsibility, limited-government federalism, and civil discourse are being threatened by a sharp leftward lurch. It isn’t just progressives who are veering to the left. The center is shifting to the left and as a result, many who are or were conservative have become more open-minded to the cultural and geopolitical shifts.

We are losing our ethical, traditional, and logical cores as a society.

NOQ Report has three goals:

1) Expose the fallacies of this leftward lurch that is making progressives more unhinged and conservatives more malleable.
2) Educate the masses about the benefits of liberty-driven philosophies that include limiting government, defending freedoms, and protecting life.
3) Engage with people in a meaningful way. We want a dialogue with everyone whether they agree or disagree with us.

America deserves better than what mainstream media feeds us.

Every dollar donated is invested back into the site to pay writers, editors, and to promote the site so it can reach more people. We have limited advertising on the site for a reason. We do not want “corporate overlords” who try to steer content, nor do we want to load the site with spammy ads. This is why we must rely on you, the readers, to keep the site afloat.

As of the middle of November, 2018, we are relaunching this campaign. We had a soft launch that had minimal success. We are pushing harder now. Please help us elevate this news site to compete against the incessant leftist propaganda being pumped onto the internet. Donate now.

Moving forward, we are going to focus on our three goals. It doesn’t matter if someone is a Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, or whatever. If they aren’t helping to limit government, defend freedoms, and protect life, we’ll call them out.

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