cancel-culture and more

The new mini-series on Netflix named “The Chair” is really quite good. It stars Sandra Oh who portrays a college professor who gets caught up in cancel-culture’s impact on life in a university.  Perhaps I wouldn’t have understood if I hadn’t just  finished reading “The Constitution of Knowledge: A Defense of Truth” by Jonathan Rauch. His book is primarily about truth within democracy and recent attacks on our society from the media, right wing pressure groups, lobbyists and even politicians.  I highly recommend it to anyone who values preserving truth and freedom within our democracy.   

Jonathan Rauch was able to finally explain clearly to me how it is that some “truths” that are supported by a majority of people can be ignored, run down, and voted out of existence by just a few.  Some of these truths cluster around the climate crisis, financial inequality, racism, jobs.  I have always blamed lobbyists, conservative media, evangelical religious groups, etc.. I have felt impotent and powerless when things that were obvious to me continuously were defeated. At least now, Rauch has helped me understand the mechanics of these many distortions of truth that are pushing our society towards the brink of autocracy and fascism.

The following is a portion of a paragraph quoted directly from his book.

“A field known as “public choice” concerns itself with the ways in which narrow pressure groups can out-organize and dominate much larger majorities. Consider American rice farmers. From 1995 to 2019, U.S. rice subsidies cost almost $17 billion. The benefits were concentrated on a small set of farms; two-thirds of the money went to the biggest 10 percent of the farms, each of which received an average of almost $1.3 million. You could be sure they were organized, resourced, and determined to defend their subsidy, and woe unto the legislator who would try to zero it out. Meanwhile, the cost was spread over the whole U.S. population. Rescinding the entire amount would have saved each of about 140 million taxpayers about $120 over the period, or less than five dollars a year: too little to notice, much less to organize against. lf a group opposing rice subsidies did manage to organize, the rice lobby would pull out all the stops to defeat it. But usually, as the economist Mancur Olson showed, the asymmetry between concentrated benefits and diffused costs is such that the majority interest does not organize at all. Over time, pressure groups accumulate, capturing resources which might have flowed elsewhere. If the process is not checked, entire economies and societies can calcify and rot.”

This example really affected me.  Many years ago, I watched my Uncle cry over losing his farm to big-business farmers and no one seemed to care.  Rauch’s book has a chapter with suggestions for us to resist, fight back, and defend the Constitution of Knowledge. I highly recommend that you read his new book. Understanding contains the beginnings of solutions.

Greta Thunberg and David Attenborough

The BBC set up an Skype interview between Greta Thunberg and David Attenborough.

It was late December, 2019.  She was 16, he was 93. You can hear the respect each has for the other. This isn’t a super bang speech, instead it is just interesting to listen to two of the most influential people of our time “saying hello”.

Click the link for an 8 minute listen: Greta and Attenborough.m4a
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Greta’s father was interviewed by BBC the same day.

Click the link for about 9 minutes: Gretas Father.m4a


Wanted: No War

The longer other countries, such as Iran and North Korea, are not allowed to have nuclear energy, the longer they are dependent on oil!

As The Guardian said “The establishment assumes that Iran can never possess nuclear weapons, yet the United States lives with nuclear-armed adversaries like Russia and China and aligns with the nuclear-armed military dictatorship in Pakistan.”

The Climate Crisis almost demands that we enable the building of more nuclear power plants. We have learned from our mistakes how to build them safely now. We should offer to build nuclear facilities for any country that wants them! Especially Iran and North Korea.

But Big Oil, with their fossil fuels lobby, holds tremendous economic power and influence on politics, particularly in the United States. They continue to scare the public over anything nuclear.

We need to fear Climate Crisis more than War. Iran having the ability to build a nuclear warhead is not nearly as dangerous as Trump having control of the US arsenals.

The Moral Machine

Take a short 13 item “test” to see how you would program AI cars to choose between unavoidable scenarios involving who lives and who dies. There are no right or wrong responses. The quiz has been taken by 3-4 million people already from 233 countries. Your responses will be displayed as compared to the totals.

The current results have just been published in Nature Magazine 1 Nov 2018. Take the test here, go to bottom and “Start Judging”.

http://moralmachine.mit.edu/

Some items are tough… 5 old people in a car vs. 5 mixed age pedestrians. Some are easy… people vs. animals.

The research article itself is behind a pay wall at Nature.com. If you have a subscription, you can find it here:

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-018-0637-6.

The applied results will be driving past your house soon. But the programming will be changeable. Help the programmer near you make ethical choices.


“Before you travel, do not forget to sit on your luggage in silence for a few minutes before leaving home.” – A Russian superstition


Life 3.0

If you’re interested in artificial intelligence (AI), I highly recommend that you read this new book Life 3.0 by Max Tegmark, a professor at MIT. His book is an easy read for the amateur and weighty enough for the AI students and professional. It explains (finally someone got it through to me) how neural networks work, how our mind learns and remembers and generally how machines can be built to mimic these processes. This is a realistic book, issues in the future are explained, not sidestepped. This is a science book that is not only important, but fun to read. I give it 5 stars!

 

“This is a conversation that everyone needs to join. But for them to join it constructively, we need to educate them about what the challenges and opportunities actually are. Otherwise it degenerates into the scaremongering that the British tabloids do. Ultimately, this is a very exciting opportunity. Everything I love about civilization is the product of intelligence. If we can create a beneficial superintelligence, we can help humanity flourish better than ever before.” — by Max Tegmark

“Worth reading Life 3.0 by @Tegmark. AI will be the best or worst thing ever for humanity, so let’s get it right.” — by Elon Musk in Twitter

“We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. Don’t let yourself be lulled into inaction.” – by Bill Gates


“If there were no God, it would be necessary to invent him.” – so said Voltaire