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NEWS STRAIGHT OR SLIGHTLY BENT: July 2018.

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In addition to the World Cup, the news these past few weeks were dominated by the plight of the 12 member Thai teenage soccer team and their coach that had been trapped in a cave for about 10 days. Through the efforts of an international rescue team, they were eventually found miraculously all still alive. The coverage was ongoing since the students were determined to be too weak to move according to medical personnel with the rescue team and had to remain in the cave for another week or so. Eventually, they were brought out of the cave and the news coverage tapered off.

Meanwhile, the media being so preoccupied with the rescue and the World Cup completely missed the news of Trump’s appointment of Vladimir Putin as the US Secretary of State, putting him third in line for the Presidency.

When queried about how Putin could ascend to the Presidency of the US given the Constitution’s requirement that the President be a natural born American citizen, the administration’s spokesperson stated that a birth certificate recently had been discovered showing Putin was born in Tennessee, the child of two Russian double agents working in the US at the time. When asked when the birth certificate would be available for review, it was explained that it was in the President’s possession and would be released when he releases his tax returns.

Reports that Vice-president Pence and Speaker Ryan, the two people in line for the presidency before Putin have recently hired a team of food tasters and doubled their security detail cannot be confirmed at this time. The President, in announcing the appointment, said that he, Trump, was the greatest President and leader of a nation in all of human history and that Vladimir Putin was “a good guy,” “very trustworthy,” “a true lover of democracy” and a “friend of the United States.” Trump also said of Putin that, “All the prettiest girls in Russia love him almost as much as they do me.”

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Trenz Pruca’s Observations: The Silk Routes.

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The cradle of civilization lies not on the banks of any river or ocean but on the banks of the ancient so-called Silk Routes. For over two millennia the Silk Routes crossed the central Asian expanse along which flowed the worlds riches and nourished the great centers of civilization. The maritime trade routes across the Mediterranean were a lusty but modest imitation but the maritime trade routes along the Indian Ocean were exceptionally vigorous. Europe was an economic, political and technological backwater. Along those trade routes, some of the most prosperous and culturally advanced cities and empires that had ever existed grew and astounded the rest of the world.

Then suddenly in the Fifteenth Century along the east and west coasts of the immense Eurasian landmass, the beginnings of a vast nautical revolution was born with the discovery of new continents and a water route between Western Europe and the Far East, The  nations of the East ultimately turned their back on its promise but in the West, these prodigious oceanic trade routes grew to create new great commercial centers. The efficiency of this oceangoing trade was so much greater than the land-based Silk Routes that the magnificent cities and civilizations that had grown up along it shriveled up and died.

The Most Significant Post You Will Never Read:

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http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2018/01/dude-you-broke-the-future.html

 

In his blog, Charlie Stross reproduces the keynote speech he gave at the 34th Chaos Communication Congress. The speech is, as he says,”polemical, intended to highlight the existence of a problem and spark a discussion, rather than a canned solution. After all, if the problem was easy to solve it wouldn’t be a problem, would it?”
Stross has some interesting insights into a few of the fundamental issues of our time such as what is AI and what is its role in the future of humanity. His oblique look at many of the issues raised from those questions alone is worth the read. For example, the following rumination about what he calls “very slow AIs,” modern corporations:

 

“Corporations are cannibals; they consume one another. They are also hive superorganisms, like bees or ants. For their first century and a half, they relied entirely on human employees for their internal operation, although they are automating their business processes increasingly rapidly this century. Each human is only retained so long as they can perform their assigned tasks, and can be replaced with another human, much as the cells in our own bodies are functionally interchangeable (and a group of cells can, in extremis, often be replaced by a prosthesis). To some extent, corporations can be trained to service the personal desires of their chief executives, but even CEOs can be dispensed with if their activities damage the corporation, as Harvey Weinstein found out a couple of months ago.”
“Finally, our legal environment today has been tailored for the convenience of corporate persons, rather than human persons, to the point where our governments now mimic corporations in many of their internal structures.”
“The problem with corporations is that despite their overt goals—whether they make electric vehicles or beer or sell life insurance policies—they are all subject to instrumental convergence insofar as they all have a common implicit paperclip-maximizer goal: to generate revenue. If they don’t make money, they are eaten by a bigger predator or they go bust. Making money is an instrumental goal—it’s as vital to them as breathing is for us mammals, and without pursuing it they will fail to achieve their final goal, whatever it may be. Corporations generally pursue their instrumental goals—notably maximizing revenue—as a side-effect of the pursuit of their overt goal. But sometimes they try instead to manipulate the regulatory environment they operate in, to ensure that money flows towards them regardless.”

 

In his discussion, he maintains that regulation is the only tool available to prevent the instrumental convergence of corporations (the need for profit) and other, swifter AIs from behaving uncontrollably and running amok. Unfortunately, this same need will also impel them to seek to manipulate the regulatory agencies for advantage instead of competing within the system. To me, this implies the need for regulation that absolutely prohibits and prevents AIs whether slow moving or fast, from influencing the rulemaking that affects them — fat chance that.
Some time ago, in Trenz Pruca’s Journal, I published a brief post on Decentralized Autonomous Corporations (DAC) https://trenzpruca.wordpress.com/2015/09/16/the-inheritors/. DAC’s are corporations run “without any human involvement, under control of an incorruptible set of business rules.” Like most corporations, they generally cannot be terminated except by the investors, often have more rights than ordinary citizens and cannot be imprisoned if they break the law. Their investors, shielded by law, are responsible only to the extent of their monetary investment for the actions of their creation.

 

If therefore, Stross is correct that the AIs, whether fast or slow, are subject to uncontrollable instrumental convergence* what happens to us?

 

 
* Instrumental convergence — the act of implacably moving toward uniformity to the exclusion of or the consuming of all else. e.g., in the case of making a profit, ultimately to the exclusion of all conflicting goals. A form of institutional autism.

COMMENTARY: Is the media biased? — the Patterson Study.

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Recently, in discussions with several of my better educated conservative friends, I was told that there existed a Harvard conducted study that found that Faux News was the least biased of the mainstream media purveyors of news. I told them I found it hard to believe and if true it was an outlier to otherwise consistent findings of the exact opposite in almost all other studies. I suggested it should be treated as such an outlier and ignored. They did not agree.

Upon returning home, I decided to research this anomaly in my understanding (an indication that I lack things of any significance with which to occupy my time). I found the only outlets to reference such a study were a few conservative blogs (“conservative” being a charitable description on my part). So, I decided to go and read the source of the inference, the study itself. The study was conducted under the auspices of the Harvard Kennedy School and the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy by a Professor Thomas E. Patterson. It certainly did not conclude what the conservative blogs said it did.

What it did find was that since 1963 with the move of broadcast television to longer newscasts and moving picture based news, reporting of negative events (negative news) by media outlets increased. This is why, for example, automobile accidents (random acts of violence but good pictures) receive more press attention than random acts of kindness (no matter how hard the station may try to balance the coverage). The author of the report specifically warns against considering negative news as either biased or fake. The automobile accident in the example happened. It was not fake news. The reporting of it was not biased. The Trump stories themselves are not biased.

The report further points out that by far the greatest imbalance of negative over positive news occurred during Clinton’s presidency — greater than any other in modern history, although Trump is well on his way to exceeding that record. They do point out, however, that the media reported far more positive stories about Trump during the nomination process than it did about his competitors.

While Clinton complained bitterly that the press rarely included his administration’s defense of its actions and policies in the negative stories, that is not the case with Trump. In 65% of negative news stories about him, Trump himself was the featured speaker. Also, Republicans within and outside of the administration accounted for an unprecedented 80% of what newsmakers said about Trump’s presidency. Democrats had only 6% of the sound bites with protestors garnering a meager 3% more.

In general, Trump and his administration have had a much greater opportunity to tell his side of the story than most. For purposes of comparison, the study points out that unlike Trump and his supporters who accounted for the above 80% of the commentary, Muslims provided only 6% of the commentary on issues relating to Islam.

Faux News, clearly an outlier in terms of negative news about the president, reported more positive stories about Trump than the other outlets. It made up for its discrepancy in negative stories by finding very few good things to say about the public and Judicial response to Trump’s actions.

Still, the sheer volume of negative stories is approaching and undoubtedly will surpass that of Clinton. So what accounts for that? Perhaps the answer is contained In the words of the author of the report, “The early days of his presidency have been marked by far more missteps and miss-hits, often self-inflicted, than any presidency in memory, perhaps ever.”

NOT A BOOK REPORT: Jason Matthews Retired American Spy and Author explains in his novels why American’s should not be nieve about Putin’s intentions toward the United States.

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“Putin covets. He wants what others have. And the taking of something from someone is the ultimate delectation.”

Matthews, Jason. Palace of Treason: A Novel (The Red Sparrow Trilogy Book 2) (p. 110). Scribner.

As we all know, there has been a lot of public discussion about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. In 2013, Jason Matthews, a recently retired CIA agent began publishing an international espionage thriller trilogy. Mathews was an officer of the CIA’s Operations Directorate. Over a thirty-three-year career, he served in multiple overseas locations and engaged in the clandestine collection of national security intelligence, specializing in denied-area operations (e.g., Russia). Matthews conducted double agent recruitment operations against Soviet-East European, East Asian, Middle Eastern, and Caribbean targets. As Chief in various CIA Stations, he collaborated with foreign partners in counterproliferation and counterterrorism operations.

His first book, Red Sparrow, was made into a recently released movie that caught the flavor of the book even if it did not quite follow its specific plot. One of the aspects of the book that the movie does not cover is Matthews’ deep analysis of and antipathy for Vladimir Putin, his goals and the government that he set up — a government Mathews considers not significantly different from what existed in Stalin’s time except that the Soviet Commissars have been replaced by the capitalist oligarchs. In the novel, one of Mathews’ characters states:

“The Rodina, sacred Motherland of black earth and endless sky, would have to endure a while longer, as the chain-wrapped corpse of the Soviet was exhumed, hauled dripping out of the swamp, and its heart was started again, and the old prisons were filled anew with men who did not see it their way.”

Matthews, Jason. Red Sparrow: A Novel (The Red Sparrow Trilogy Book 1) (p. 27). Scribner.

In 2015, still before the 2016 US election, Mathews published his second Novel Palace of Treason in which he further dissects the character and motivation of the autocrat that now runs the Kremlin. After the thwarting of a Putin initiative in Iran, Mathews explores the Russian leader’s popularity, motivations, and goals:

“Kakaya raznitsa, who cares,” thought Putin, flipping the folder closed and tossing it into an outbox of white Koelga marble. He didn’t give a shit; global imbalance, confusion, and chaos suited him and Russia just fine. Maybe this fire was the work of the Americans or the Israelis, or maybe those Persian babuiny, baboons, didn’t know how to handle uranium. Well, he had long since received the money from Tehran for the shipment, and “investors’ deposits” had been made—Govormarenko had already divvied up the euros. Never mind; when the Iranians were ready to rebuild, Russia would step up with equipment and expertise to assist. At à la carte prices.”

“And let them try to rile up the Caucasus—no chance, he had his domestic audience well in hand. Ninety-six percent of Russians approved of his recent military initiatives in Ukraine; ninety-five percent of them believed that America was goading fractious Kiev to persecute ethnic Russians in that country. Ninety-two percent believed—no, knew—that the same situation existed in Russian enclaves in the Caucasus, Moldova, Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia. Opportunities would present themselves. They always did.”

“He would keep an eye on the oligarchs. They were rumbling about their money troubles in the face of Western banking sanctions. Nothing a few corruption trials and prison sentences wouldn’t smooth out. Massive gas and oil deals with China, India, and Japan would take the teeth out of the sanctions soon enough. And he would continue to defame and stress the NATO weak-sister coalition. Conditions were right to shatter the Euro-Atlantic alliance once and for all, which would be redress for the dissolution of the USSR. With NATO razed to the ground, the Czech-Polish missile shield proposal would no longer be a worry.”

Matthews, Jason. Palace of Treason: A Novel (The Red Sparrow Trilogy Book 2) (p. 468). Scribner.

It seems that with Putin’s success in affecting the US election and the suborning the American president he helped elect, the shattering the Euro-Atlantic alliance depicted in the novel as his obsession is exactly what Putin has accomplished in reality now three years later. Given his position in the CIA and the fact that the novels were reviewed and approved for publication by that agency, I suspect Mathews intended them to be more factual and cautionary than fictional and prescient. In other words, a warning that sadly went unheeded. Russia remains our enemy.

Tuckahoe Joe’s Blog of the Week: Anthropomics (http:anthropomics2.blogspot.com/ )

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I especially like this blog because the author seems to believe (as do I) that intemperate invective is a legitimate method of scholarly criticisms. For example, in one of his blog postings reviewing a book written by another anthropologist, he opines:

“You know what? Fuck him. Fuck his ancestors too. What some inbred twit thinks the about the evolution of human society is about as relevant as what a raccoon thinks. The reason this kind of pervy-Darwinistic thought was repudiated many decades ago is that it was recognized as the vulgar self-interested bio-politics of the rich and powerful. If there is a Darwinian lesson to be extracted from the history of the 20th century, it is probably that the poor require constant protection from the ideologies of the overwealthy and underpigmented.”

Anyway, this week’s blog post appears in Anthropomics (http:anthropomics2.blogspot.com/ ), a blog by well-known geneticist and evolutionary anthropologist Jonathan Marks who describes himself as “faux geneticist, now a faux historian, all the while an evolutionary anthropologist.”

In an article in that blog entitled “Who wants Charles Murray to speak, and why,” he examines the recent revival on the university lecture circuit of the well known racist Charles Murray (remember The Bell Curve), and takes special aim at those arguing that “all ideas deserve a hearing.”

“The Bell Curve cited literature from The Mankind Quarterly, which no mainstream scholar cites, because it is an unscholarly racist journal, supported by the Pioneer Fund, that wacko right-wing philanthropy that has thrown money at wacko eugenicists, racists, segregationists, and hereditarians of all stripes, since its inception in 1937 under the aegis of the wacko eugenicist Harry Laughlin. The Bell Curve also cited the work of that racist wacko psychologist Philippe Rushton – who believed that the mean IQ of Africans is genetically set at 70 and that Africans had been r-selected for high reproductive rate and low intelligence — and then pre-emptively defended his wacko racist ideas in an appendix. Even the wacko evolutionary psychologists distanced themselves from Rushton, appreciating the toxicity of his ideas: “Bad science and virulent racial prejudice drip like pus from nearly every page of this despicable book,” wrote David Barash in the journal Animal Behavior.”

And further on:

“And now the alt-right has gained political ascendancy, and Charles Murray is on a speaking tour.”

And goes on:

“The Bell Curve capitalized on the popularity of the Human Genome Project in putting forth its thesis about the genetic stupidity of poor people in the 1990s. Some geneticists repudiated it, but others recognized, as the geneticists of the 1920s did, that it was good for the business of genetics. When Science reviewed Madison Grant’s The Passing of the Great Race – a classic of American racist thought, which was read in defense of Karl Brandt at the Nuremberg trials to show that the Germans had simply been doing what the Americans were advocating — it concluded with a sobering thought: “This is a book that will … help to disseminate the ever-growing conviction among scientific men of the supreme importance of heredity.” Sure, the genetic theory in question might be insane, might be evil, and it might be false, but it definitely is good for business. More recently, the Human Genome Project was backed up with all sorts of purple prose about how your DNA sequence was the most important thing about you: The Code of Codes, The Book of Man, and the like. They knew it was bullshit then, and that’s why there is such interest in epigenetics now.

“These geneticists are reprehensible because they provide the hereditarian soil for scientific racism. The geneticists may not themselves be racists, but their idiotic statements about what they think their knowledge applies to have indeed sometimes crossed over. James D. Watson, who knows more about DNA than you do, caused a stir a decade ago when he said that different groups of people have different “powers of reason”. The rest of the genetics community disagreed, and challenged his own powers of reason.

And continues:

“We should not be debating the innate intelligence of black people, or of the poor, on college campuses or anywhere. It is a morally corrupt pseudoscientific proposition

“Its like inviting a creationist or an inventor of a perpetual motion machine. The university should not be a censor, but it sure as hell is a gatekeeper. At this point, sometimes they go all radical epistemological relativist and say that all ideas deserve a hearing. But all ideas don’t deserve a hearing. The universe of things that do get discussed and debated on college campuses is rather small in proportion to the ideas that people have debated over the years. Should we stone witches? No. Might the speed of light be 140,000 miles per second, rather than 186,000? No. Might the universe just be made up of earth, air, water, and fire? No. Might Africans just be genetically stupid? Might people who want to debate this point have their fundamental civic morality called into question instead?”

“This also raises bigger problems. Geneticists that mislead the public about what human genetics explains. College faculty that can’t identify pseudoscience. There were, after all, any number of serious refutations of every aspect of The Bell Curve. “
http://anthropomics2.blogspot.com/2017/04/who-wants-charles-murray-to-speak-and.html

So, there you have it. He, basically, argues that modern geneticists, in their interest to promote their trade as relevant, risk becoming the camel with its nose under the tent of right-wing racist fantasists. I agree, fuck them and fuck the genes they rode in on.

(JP- I realize everyone probably knows a racist or two but is anyone aware of any radical epistemological relativists stalking your neighborhood recently?)

Tuckahoe Joe’s Blog of the Week: The Washington Center for Equitable Growth blog ( http://equitablegrowth.org/working-papers/inventor-america-exposure/ )

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The Washington Center for Equitable Growth blog ( http://equitablegrowth.org/working-papers/inventor-america-exposure/ ) reproduces an interesting study entitled Who becomes an inventor in America? The importance of exposure to innovation. In it, the authors examined over 1.2 million inventors from patent records linked to tax records. They found:

First, children from high-income (top 1%) families are ten times as likely to become inventors as those from below-median income families. There are similarly large gaps by race and gender. Data on test scores in early childhood suggest that differences in innate ability explain relatively little of these gaps.

Second, exposure to innovation during childhood has significant causal effects on children’s propensities to become inventors. Growing up in a neighborhood or family with a high innovation rate in a specific technology class leads to a higher probability of patenting in exactly the same technology class. These exposure effects are gender-specific: girls are more likely to become inventors in a particular technology class if they grow up in an area with more female inventors in that technology class.

Third, the financial returns to inventions are extremely skewed and highly correlated with their scientific impact, as measured by citations. Consistent with the importance of exposure effects and contrary to standard models of career selection, women and disadvantaged youth are as under-represented among high-impact inventors as they are among inventors as a whole.

We develop a simple model of inventors’ careers that match these empirical results. The model implies that increasing exposure to innovation in childhood may have larger impacts on innovation than increasing the financial incentives to innovate, for instance by reducing tax rates. In particular, there are many “lost Einsteins” — individuals who would have had highly impactful inventions had they been exposed to innovation.

 

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