I’m currently reading a book on A.I. One questions that lingers in the back of my mind involves the reasons we would want to build A.I.–and more broadly, the reasons we strive for newer and better technology. Improving our lives–more specifically, improving our material existence–is the obvious answer–i.e., curing diseases, making tasks that requires physical and cognitive resources easier and more efficient, etc. Clearly, improving technology is very important way to improve the lives of human beings.
However, my sense is that many people act as if this is the most important way to improve the lives of individuals and society overall, and I think this position is flawed. For example, I tend to believe the source of humanity’s biggest problems are moral and even social in nature. Improvements on the former can improve the latter, which, in turn, would have the most dramatic impact on most of our social ills. At least, this is my current position.
To test whether humanity’s problem are rooted in material or more moral/spiritual matters, I want to offer the following thought experiment: Suppose we could fulfill all the ambitions of technophiles (excluding technology that would dramatically change human nature–e.g., genetic engineer humans that are more selfless and compassionate), what would those technologies be, and what impact would we expect on individual and societies? Would we expect a significant reduction or elimination of the biggest problems we face?
How to Put Out Democracy’s Dumpster Fire by Anne Applebaum and Peter Pomeratsev in the Atlantic is an article about the way the current nature of the internet, in general, and social media, specifically, are harmful, or even hostile, to democracy. The authors also recommend several specific suggestions to change this. The writers seem optimistic that their suggestion could actually significantly improve the internet, making it a more viable for democracy, if their recommendations are adopted (which is another matter).
I do believe improvements can be made to at least reduce the toxicity and dysfunction of the information and discussion space produced by the internet. But I do have some critiques of their recommendations.
I’ll go over these soon, but for now I recommend others to read this article.
The thread below by Senator Chris Murphy is the impetus behind this post.
Joe Biden – and all of us – SHOULD be furious that media outlets are spreading what is very likely Russian propaganda.
1/ I’ve seen the intel. The mainstreaming of misinformation is Russia’s 2020 goal. Here’s what we know, and why we can’t take it lying down.
2/ Russia knew it had to play a different game than 2016. So it built an operation to cull virulently pro-Trump Americans as pseudo-assets, so blind in their allegiance to Trump that they’ll willingly launder Kremlin constructed anti-Biden propaganda. Guiliani was a key target.
3/ Andriy Derkach was a top Russian agent. He was unmasked by the Treasury Dept this summer. Derkach and his team recruited Guiliani and have been feeding him info all year. The White House knew this. The White House was warned that Giuliani was target of a Russian intelligence operation to feed misinformation to Trump from WaPo
4/ Whether he knows it or not, Giuliani is effectively a Russian asset now. It’s almost certain that any anti-Biden info he has is fed to him by Derkach and Russian intel.This should be patently obvious to any reporter worth his or her salt.
Vowing crackdown on Russian meddling, US sanctions Ukrainian lawmaker who worked with Giuliani to smear Biden. from CNN
5/ And you don’t have to believe me. Believe the Department or Justice – Trump’s own FBI is investigating the “leaked” Hunter Biden emails as Russian spycraft.US authorities investigating if recently published emails are tied to Russian disinformation effort targeting Biden from CNN.
6/ Further, media don’t need a Pulitzer to see the whole story as super fishy. A pro-Trump computer repairman mysteriously comes across Hunter Biden’s laptop, copies the files, and guess who gets them? Russia’s top American asset – Rudy! Coincidence!! Meet the computer repairman at the center of New York Post’s Hunter Biden laptop story from Delaware Online
7/ Why is it important for media to not simply pick this story up and amplify it? Why should we be offended that the VP is being asked about it?
Because this is Russia’s bet – that America, and its media, is so hungry for salacious stories that no one will vet their lies.
8/ And American media do have major credibility, for good reason. They do amazing work, and get most stories 100% right.
Russia wants to use this credibility to their advantage. And that’s why we all have to be vigilant. Democracy depends on it.
I honestly don’t know where you guys stand on this (and based on what I know, Mitchell likely disagrees), but I totally agree with Senator Murphy. I’ll expand on reasons for this in the first comments post.
There are two main positions regarding the lack of an informed citizenry in a democratic society. One emphasizes the failure of individual citizens–that is, they are apathetic or lazy, failing to think critically and put in the time to inform one’s self. The other emphasizes the effects of new technologies and media–specifically, the deluge of information and the eroding authority and influence of traditional curators of information. I use the word “emphasizes” intentionally, signifying that both aspects are important, but the difference in position is a matter of emphasizing one aspect over the other.
I fall into the latter group. Specifically, I believe that not only an informed citizenry, but a functioning public square, which is critical for a democratic society, depends on addressing some of the negative effects of new technology. My sense is that new technologies that change nature and flow of information requires societies to adjust, creating tools and processes to help individuals and institutions manage and make information meaningful and useful, versus the opposite. Knowledgeable, critical thinkers are important component of this process, but even if every citizen had these attributes, the problem would still be significant. In this thread, I hope to give some specific examples, primarily from social media, that illustrate this.
I really enjoy the experience of coming across a new idea that changes my perception or understanding in a significant way. I’ve been thinking about four pieces of writing that did that for–all of them crucial, I would say, to Americans. I list those articles, with a brief description, in the first comment. (Note: The title is more of an attention-getter than something I literally believe.)
The New York Times has a podcast about the way the internet affects us. The first two episodes focus on Youtube, reviewing a young man’s Youtube viewing and tracking it with changes in his political ideology. This is thread to discuss Episode 1 and Episode 2
explores this topic via discussion between Yuval Noah Harari (YNH), historian/philosopher, and Fei-Fei Li (FL), an AI scientist. (Harari wrote on an article on free will that I discussed here
.) Nicholas Thompson (NT), from Wired
magazine moderates the discussion. This thread will be a repository for my notes on the discussion. Continue reading “Will AI Hack Humanity?”
The Reply All podcast had a recent two part show that I really liked. (You can listen to them here (part 1) and here (part 2). My background in government and public administration is a big reason for my interest in these two episodes, but I’m pretty sure both of you will find this interesting and entertaining.
This thread will be place to jot down my thoughts on the podcasts.
If you really want to know a summary, I’ll give you one, but I think you should just listen to the first ten minutes, and if that doesn’t grab you, you can take a pass. Before I give a summary, I will say that part of what I think you’ll find interesting is the profile of one of the people in this. For me, he’s the type of fictional detective I’d really like (or used to) in a Hollywood movie or detective fiction. I think you would guys will find him interesting. Here’s a summary of the episodes. Continue reading “Notes on Reply All Episodes #127 and #128: “The Crime Machine, Part 1 and 2””
Ask a nagging question here, and maybe we can pool our incredible intellects to provide a satisfactory answer. Here’s the first question: Continue reading “Can Someone Explain This To Me?”