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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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Entertainment and Sports

Game of Thrones Final Season Episode 2 Review

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Game of Thrones Final Season Episode 2 Review

As with episode’s one’s review there is no promise of keeping free of spoilers. In fact there is nothing to spoil. Last week’s episode was gritty in a political thriller sort of way as the divided North became the main focus. Episode 2 takes place in the limbo period between the preparation episode and the battle itself. It served as a second preparation episode that was unnecessary filler between two important events. In practice, I like to keep these reviews free of shiny objects and focus on the more analytical aspects of the show, but those were few and far between.

Verdict: Episode 2 was a hollow turd.

Ser Jaime

Ser Jaime Lannister is the MVP of this episode, having the only interesting opportunities continuing throughout the script, but still failed to depict, accurately, Jaime’s character once more. Jaime opens up on “trial” before his former enemies. In truth, Jaime, blurring the lines between sarcastic and serious, regards slaying Mad King Areys II as his “finest deed.” He regrets little, but that which he regrets are the deeds of concealing his (past) love for Cersei, like throwing a child out of a tower, and [spoiler alert] lying to Tyrion about his first wife Tysha being a whore. The latter is an increasingly frustrating deviation that not only undermines Jaime’s character development but has paved the way for HBO to emasculate Tyrion Lannister, metaphorically speaking as opposed to the literal emasculating of Theon Greyjoy. In confronting Daenerys, Jaime was not as defiant enough to make an interesting confrontation better. Instead this was undermined by the power struggle between Daenerys and Sansa, denying a far richer scene where Jaime declares that he saved half a million people. During the drinking scene that resembled previous buildups before battles, Jaime’s character could have amended the Tysha deviation. This hope was unrealized; however, the episode’s best scene was the knighting of Brienne of Tarth, a misfit too ugly to be a lady but unable to be a knight. “Any knight can make a knight” is a well-known Westerosi saying.

Lack of Military Realism

The show goes out of its way to paint incompetent characters like Sansa and Daenerys as quality leaders. Last week, was the first time characters acknowledged how selfish Daenerys is. Sansa is the last person on the show you want as a “wartime president.” Very few remaining characters in Game of Thrones can play the game and command an army. Jon Snow is one. Tyrion is a second, but the show has made him irredeemably stupid. Jaime refused the game but technically has a winning record as a commanding officer. Bronze Yohn Royce was technically featured in the episode and can do both. Daenerys is probably better at military command than playing politics, but when you have dragons, it takes far less skill, Aegon the Conquerer proved as much. Last weeks episode delved into the logistics of war. That was virtually undone in this episode.

For instance Brienne of Tarth is given command of the left flank. Looking closely at the war maps, the left flank featured the knights of the Vale. Instead of having Lord Yohn Royce, a season military commander who fought in Robert’s Rebellion, the Greyjoy Rebellion, led the winning cavalry charge in the Battle of the Bastards, has the loyalty of his men as the most powerful lord in the Vale, the show has Brienne of Tarth command the Vale’s force. Brienne of Tarth has fought one battle, at most! She has never led an army and has no ties to the Vale. The only thing dumber than giving her command of the Vale would be giving her command of the Dothraki, who I believe are on the right flank, the place of honor in ancient Greek culture (perhaps relevant). It’s not that Brienne of Tarth is unworthy of any command, they simply chose the second least believable place for her to lead.

Prepubescent Sex Scene

This is not the poorest written sex scene in Game of Thrones, that still belongs to Sansa being married off to Ramsay Bolton, one of the worst plot deviations from the books. Arya having sex with Gendry was up there though. Arya is eleven when the show starts. A year has passed, no doubt, maybe two, but not anything beyond three which would barely put her at fourteen, at most. It’s not the combo, it’s the age. Arya is a child, not a sensual woman. The show has unrealistically aged these characters. Heck, why didn’t they recast Gilly’s [Mance’s] son? They’ve had over three Mountains, two Dario Naharises (both poorly casted), two Myrscella Baratheons, and I’m sure there are others.

Only Meaning

The only meaning in the episode that was of any worth was Bran revealing the motive of the White Walkers to erase the memory of mankind. There was no buildup and little foreshadow towards this reveal. Game of Thrones is all about placing mysteries on the backburner (who really killed Jon Arryn) but this was a little rushed.

Final Thoughts

This episode was less worthwhile than watching the first three episodes of Star Wars. You could have missed episode 2 and have gone straight to episode 3 and you would have missed nothing that wasn’t known already. I’m not saying this was the worst Game of Thrones episode ever but its down there.

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We’ve reached ‘Peak Roger Stone’ on the timeline as he prepares to speak at strip club

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Weve reached Peak Roger Stone on the timeline as he prepares to speak at strip club

President Trump’s long-time confidant and rabble-rouser Roger Stone is short on cash and looking for options as mounting legal fees reduce his wealth. In a move that can be categorized as “Peak Roger Stone,” the controversial figure is set to accept a large fee to speak at a strip club.

Stone will appear at the Paper Moon in Richmond, Virginia, along side ‘Manhattan Madam’ Kristin Davis of former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer fame.

Stone faces legal troubles for allegedly working with WikiLeaks to spread the DNC email hacks that helped President Trump win his election in 2016.

He has always been a controversial figure in and out of politics. Known for his willingness to speak his mind regardless of the consequences, Stone has been notably subdued since being shut down by a judge after he shared an Instagram post about her in February.

I’m not sure how having Roger Stone speaking will benefit the strip club’s business. He’s the exact opposite of what I picture most people expect to see when going to a strip club, but to each his own.

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Culture and Religion

Since leftist media won’t say it: Radical Islamic terrorists murdered hundreds of Christians

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Since leftist media wont say it Radical Islamic terrorists murdered hundreds of Christians

The dramatic shift in how mainstream media characterizes terrorist attacks over the years reached what I hope is the pinnacle of their obfuscation today. The terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka against Christian churches and areas where Christians were likely to gather were committed on Easter Sunday by Muslims in a city known for radicalization. This was a clear and unambiguous attack by radical Islamic terrorists specifically targeting Christians.

But you’ll have a hard time coming to that conclusion if all you’re reading or watching is leftist mainstream media.

The reporting today has been in stark contrast to the immediate labeling and narrative-building surrounding the terrorist attacks in New Zealand mosques last month. There was zero doubt based on media reporting that the attacks were targeting Muslims. But today, it’s hard to even find the word “Christian” in any of the posts or news reports. On top of that, there’s a stark difference when reading the Tweets of condolences from leftists who refuse to acknowledge this as an attack against Christianity despite the immediate and crystal clear labeling of the New Zealand mosque incidents as attacks targeting Muslims.

Some of this was noted by Brittany Pettibone:

OAN’s Jack Posobiec added that a new phrase has been coined by the media regarding the Notre-Dame fire:

Was this the same response they were giving following the Christchurch attacks? No. As Imam Mohamad Tawhidi noted, the differences were very clear.

Why do the media and leftist politicians do this? Why are they quick to label attacks against any other religious group exactly as they appear, but they’re so unwilling to call out any attacks against Christians as attacks against Christians?

This is the time we’re in, folks. The left has a narrative they want jammed into our heads and that narrative has no room for acknowledging violence and persecution is committed against Christians. The only stories that fit their narratives are stories that can blame Christians for wrongdoing. In those cases, the perpetrators’ status as Christians is broadcast loud and clear. But if Christians are victims, the left will go to extreme lengths to negate that fact from the record.

Of all the major news outlets, I was only able to find one that didn’t shy away from the truth. The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board stands alone in declaring the intended victims of this attack as who they are and why they were targeted.

WSJ Editorial Board

The intentional suppression of what happened, who committed it, and who was targeted is beyond insulting. The terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka are being framed by the media as some people did something.

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