Saturday, June 09, 2018

Central Control over AI... and everything else

Back home, hoping for a rest after nine weeks of relentless travel and speechifying.  But no, I cannot lay off this unpaid scrivening, here. Because, well, the issues and misunderstandings are just to rife. For example: I was recently in China for a corporate conference, to keynote a session on “Daily Life in the Future.” There, I got to sample different cultural and political perspectives in Shenzhen from Hong Kong, just across the border.

Around the same time, the Washington Post published an opinion piece by a Chinese academic that has caused a stir, by offering a cogent and thoughtful – and ultimately wrongheaded – argument that the sole solution to AI – related problems will be control by a paramount party-state.

We need to understand how these polemical rationalizations — e.g. “we are getting even for colonialism”  — aim to gird and rationalize a heightened level of intensity. Intensity that's not needed, in order to develop an advanced and competitive nation… but that will be necessary if your aim is to stir militancy, even war.

== The argument for central control over AI… and everything else ==

Feng Xiang, a professor of law at Tsinghua University, argues that AI will spell the end of capitalism. 

First, the standard Marxian cycle will return, with a vengeance. For lack of anti-monopoly or redistributive reform (like those enacted by our parents, under FDR, or our great grandparents, under the other Roosevelt), each business cycle will result in greater wealth disparities and a narrowing of the owner-controlling caste, leading to a conversion of vibrantly competitive markets back into history's standard, uncreative oligarchic pyramid. 

Naturally, Professor Feng’s proposed solution is also Marxist. Party-guided proletarian revolution.

Second, technological obsolescence of many types of employment will break the livelihoods of hundreds of millions, if not billions. No longer able to negotiate or bargain for the value of their labor, workers will be at the mercy of the Owner Caste. And yes, ditto. Feng’s prescription for a resolution is Sino-Marxist.

Finally, any AI that gains control over important systems with unsupervised intelligence may pose an existential risk to humanity. For this and other reasons, Professor Feng argues that research into artificial intelligence should be tightly controlled by a benevolent socialist state.

Why am I giving space over to a communist state-servant who promotes Marxist notions that I clearly disagree-with? Because it is well-worthwhile reading his appraisal of the looming problems. After which it is instructive to study his prescriptions! Because simplistic panaceas will doubtless appeal to billions, over the next couple of decades. Especially when our own lords seem determined to follow the Marxian pattern, by driving the middle class into penury.

You need to grasp the polemical intent underlying Professor Feng's missive. And to see how Feng's prescriptions do not follow, logically, from his well-described premises.

(Note: for a much more detailed look at these rationalizations for recreating the feudal pyramid, see: Jiang Shigong's monograph on ‘Philosophy and History: Interpreting the “Xi Jinping Era” through Xi’s Report to the Nineteenth National Congress of the CCP’.)

== Zooming in ==

Let’s dive into Feng Xiang’s own words:

“But China’s socialist market economy could provide a solution to this. If AI rationally allocates resources through big data analysis, and if robust feedback loops can supplant the imperfections of “the invisible hand” while fairly sharing the vast wealth it creates, a planned economy that actually works could at last be achievable.”

Hold back your visceral reaction. Yes, yes, this is a blatant attempt to justify the ingathering of overwhelming power into a permanent, narrow, self-chosen caste. It’s the same model that dominated 99% of all human societies. Each of those also invoked incantations to explain why a dominant caste should hold and monopolize all power.

Almost anyone raised in the Western Enlightenment – or by Hollywood film morality – will feel instant recognition and loathing. Indeed, the difference between a state controlled by capitalist owner-oligarchy and a pyramidal hierarchy controlled by communist party elite is (basically) only one of vocabulary and incantations, not structure or end result.

But as I said; hold on a minute. It’s one thing to recognize a servile charm-chant to justify central power. It's quite another thing to dismiss every aspect of Prof. Feng's argument. We’d be fools to do so.

“The more AI advances into a general-purpose technology that permeates every corner of life, the less sense it makes to allow it to remain in private hands that serve the interests of the few instead of the many. More than anything else, the inevitability of mass unemployment and the demand for universal welfare will drive the idea of socializing or nationalizing AI.”

Complaining about the rapacious, insatiable and socially irresponsible behavior of today’s capitalist corporations, he asserts:

“These companies have been able to get away with their social irresponsibility because the legal system and its loopholes in the West are geared to protect private property above all else. Of course, in China, we have big privately owned Internet companies like Alibaba and Tencent. But unlike in the West, they are monitored by the state and do not regard themselves as above or beyond social control.”

In other words, Professor Feng proclaims that state planning will be boosted in effectiveness by the very thing (AI) that would be lethal, under capitalism.

Feng Xiang continues: “Marx’s dictum, “From each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs,” needs an update for the 21st century: “From the inability of an AI economy to provide jobs and a living wage for all, to each according to their needs.”’

Why have I given lengthy space to this? Even urging you all to go read the original, for yourself? Because of the extreme (and interesting) cognitive dissonance of this essay, which accurately describes a trio of serious dilemmas that have us clearly on course to failure...

...only then Feng explicitly declares that the only answer is to return to a different failure mode! A governance method that proved universally calamitous across 6000 years.

== An aside: the “central planning wall” ==

Consider that state planners know there is a “wall of incompetence.” Such a wall tripped up the Soviets in the 1950s, when their command methods for building primary industry (steel, dams, railroads) that worked so well in the 1930s proved inept at secondary industry capable of producing a refrigerator that anyone wanted. 

The 1980s Japanese zaibatsus – organized by the Ministry of Trade -- were convinced that their planned mercantilism had overcome Soviet errors, by using capitalist tools… till hitting their wall: the tertiary economy.

There can be no arguing with the fantastic successes wrought by the current Chinese leadership’s use of planning combined with corporate structures and predatory mercantilism. Even if their debt bubble pops tomorrow, their achievements in advancing their nation have been epic. 

Yes, a few of us point out that the fundamental key to their success was an American innovation – generously counter-mercantilist trade patterns instituted by the American pax since 1946 -- that uplifted half the population of the globe. Without that unprecedented indulgence by the era's "central kingdom," the “Chinese Method” would have gone exactly nowhere.  Still, the engineers who occupy seats on the current Beijing politburo are smart guys, and they can be excused some hubris, believing they have a way around the next state planning “wall.”

The magic tool they have used for a decade as been pre-AI computer modeling. And they expect that to transform into the ultimate wall-breaker – true artificial intelligence -- which will supposedly make economic and tech models so realistic that central planning will outstrip every system based upon Adam Smith’s markets or Friedrich Hayek’s ‘distributed wisdom.’

Do you now understand better the quasi-religious faith that central planners vest in the positive traits of AI?  Meanwhile, they posit – along with Elon Musk and many worried westerners - that there can be negative effects of burgeoning AI, as well! Even calamitous ones. And hence, Feng asks: who better to prevent Robopacalypse than a central party state?

Yes, yes, he follows his cogent dilemma description with a self-serving, magical incantation for centralization, without a scintilla of evidence or reason. No pyramidal power hierarchy ever evaded for long the core human contradiction: that we are delusional beings. Only one antidote has ever been found for delusion and error – free and open criticism. And tiny ruling castes always, always crush criticism.

They will hire gifted theologians – like Professor Feng – to concoct catechisms in whatever state religion justifies paramount power. But no matter how potent their AI, the fundamental remains the same. Garbage in, garbage out.

GiGo. There will be a wall.

== Don’t be smug ==

Do not use my own glib incantation about GiGo to dismiss all of Feng Xiang’s arguments! He is absolutely right that:

- We must find ways to avoid a gathering of all power into our own style of pyramid. One that’s inarguably worse – in its final stage – than Confucian paternalism. Feudal lordship by an owner aristocracy.

- Looming technological unemployment does mean that some renegotiation of the social contract will be absolutely vital.  As in Roosevelt’s time, it will involve some redistribution of ownership, likely vesting all citizens in shares of the means of production. (A much better solution than universal welfare income: read Vonnegut’s Player Piano, and Farmer’s Riders of the Purple Wage.)  The Greatest Generation knew this, as did the American founders, who redistributed a quarter of all the land in Britain’s former colonies.

But an American style reform would still entail the widest possible distribution and separation of power and influence. Indeed, although there will be screams of “socialism!” such a redistribution would be diametrically opposite to both types of pyramids. Both feudal oligarchy and Chinese Party hierarchy.

And yes, AI could either help or impede, depending on one thing. Transparency.

== Feng is also right that AI threatens us with peril ==

Want to see how creepy the present situation is?

In a 2014 article, Prof. Shawn Bayern demonstrated that anyone can confer legal personhood on an autonomous computer algorithm by putting it in control of a limited liability corporation. (“Independently wealthy software.”)  Such entities now operate independently, accepting and transferring payments and hiring humans for offline services.

In a fascinating article, UCLA Professor Lynn Lopucki asserts that algorithmic entities are likely to prosper first in criminal activities or those that benefit most from operating in the dark.  

This comes as no surprise to readers of science fiction. Autonomous algorithms featured in the novels of John Brunner and Joe Haldeman, long before gaining attention in William Gibson’s “Neuromancer,” wherein the protagonist only at the end realizes his employer was a cryptic AI. And that is just one of countless ways that new AI methods can only be turned benign if they operate purely under light. 

My favorite solution – a universal, international treaty – would solve all this in just two sentences:

“If you think you own something – from a car to a home, to a corporation, or ship, or algorithm – you must say so, identifying it openly. No shell entity may layer more than two deep before revealing owners who are living humans or totally transparent foundations.”

Two sentences.

Some have called this a “welfare program for lawyers,” since the litigation that it unleashed would last a decade. So? The biggest immediate effect would be a tsunami of suddenly revealed and abandoned property – never declared by the owners who acquired it through crime -- perhaps enough to give all legitimate taxpayers a tax holiday, worldwide. 

If you are a legitimate and honest taxpayer, there is no measure proposed by anyone that would benefit you more. I defend this proposal elsewhere. But here I assert simply:

* If it were imposed and enforced worldwide. No other measure would do as much to restore fairness and enlightenment and progress to the world. *

== The Final Feng ==

You all have been champing at the bit to point out the last and most glaring error of Feng Xiang’s missive. To declare that AI entities will be rendered harmless if controlled by a paramount party elite, atop an all-powerful central state. The error is obvious:

1. So empowered, that core elite will be unquestionable. A Big Brother that no Orwell could ever have imagined.

2. What happens when the AI gets truly much smarter than its masters? Won’t this power structure be trivially convenient for that entity to simply and subtly invert?  A pyramid of already unquestionable power, easily taken over by the very entities it claimed to control.

Jesus. Is any other outcome even remotely possible?

Yes, I prefer the distributed-competitive model, breaking up all elites and powers into reciprocally-accountable lumps. A method that works only under fully pervasive light. But when light does shine into all crevices, it works better than any other system ever devised.  (Why do you think that all the world’s oligarchs seek – in a worldwide putsch – to strangle the method, forever?)

Read Feng Xiang’s missive, with all of this in mind. There is partial value… like many things in life… but also silliness. Use light to separate them.

== Coda ==


63 comments:

donzelion said...

"Some have called this a “welfare program for lawyers,” since the litigation that it unleashed would last a decade."

Not this lawyer. The problem is seldom that people do not know who owns what; every billionaire discloses his assets (opens his kimono) to obtain credit that enables leveraging those assets to obtain more billions. Most billionaires aren't even worried about hiding assets for tax purposes: paying property taxes is a useful way to stake a claim.

The big secret they tend to want to keep is intention, e.g., when Rockefeller started secretly investing in land around Jackson Hole, Wyoming, it didnt bother anyone - until they learned his master plot of creating a national park on that land. Even had they known about his large estate, they wouldn't have bothered much (or even taken pride in the cadre of owners interested in their ranches, and tried to use that to raise prices more). But they tried their best to torpedo Grand Tetons NP.

The deeper layers are designed for problems unrelated to hiding ownership, almost always about securing intentions. Set up a rule like this and you'll definitely shutdown film production for anything bigger than the smallest of handheld films...which some may not mind to much.

LarryHart said...

Interesting line from Bill Maher's show last night. Maybe even locumranch will agree:


"Conservatives govern without shame, and liberals shame without governing."

Anonymous said...


I've heard of someone, called Noam Chomsky.

Winter7

Alfred Differ said...

@Treebeard | It's been pretty disappointing how that vision hasn't panned out

Obviously you've never been around some corporate founders who manage to turn an idea into a viable business. It's the strangest thing I've ever seen. The magic involves verbal, somatic, and material components and manages to snare typically cautious people who have money to risk and even more people who place their livelihoods on the line, quit other jobs, and go to work for the new bosses. Sometimes the magic works. Sometimes it doesn't. Each time I've seen it tried, I marvel at it.

Alfred Differ said...

@winter7 | I wouldn't suggest thoughts are enough to do much, but they do count as action and it is pretty easy to show how.

Suppose you have a neat idea that could make the world a better place and then never act on it. Some would argue that you didn't act and to some degree they would be correct. However, suppose you have this idea before you have children of your own and in raising them you manage to pass along the idea to your son. He passes it on to his son who passes it on to his son. At some point you are dead and dust and your great-grandson chooses to act on the idea. He gets credit for acting, right? Do you? Does your son or his son?

I argue the answer is yes and that anyone who disagrees is guilty of a bit of behavior progressives tend to display when something good happens and they say 'NOT GOOD ENOUGH!' Perhaps your great-grandson in the story has more courage than you do. Perhaps he is in a better situation to execute on the idea than you are. Who knows? Keeping the idea alive down through the generations was necessary, though, for him to execute on it. That means you and your descendants acted.

For a real life example of this, consider the institution of slavery. It is truly ancient. Many people down through the ages have argued against it besides the people caught up in it. History has a lot of stories of slaves running away, assaulting their owners, and refusing to surrender their self-ownership. Action by those who opposed the institution didn't do much harm to it let alone bring it down until recently. It wasn't until AFTER the common man in some areas started to experience a dramatically improved real income that Abolition began to have success. By the time that happened, something very big had happened in their world. It had become cheaper to use industrial tools to do the work formerly done by slaves. The change in costs MIGHT have brought down slavery or done serious harm to the institution eventually, but it was the Abolition idea that struck it first and hardest. Where abolitionists did not execute well, slavery survived for some time.

The institution is still not dead today. There are still types of labor where it is more cost effective (and very profitable) to enslave people. A modern Abolitionist would do well to look beyond the moral failure (on which most of us agree) of the owners involved and attack the economic conditions that make it cheaper to own the people doing the work. Many of us have the thought preserved in our minds, but haven't done much else... yet.

Alfred Differ said...

@locumranch | I detest the sloppy & imprecise use of language.

Just because we disagree on a definition doesn't mean I'm being sloppy or imprecise. I assure you I've thought quite a bit about this stuff. I'm also quite capable of the verbosity necessary to get philosophically medieval on your arse.

You are behaving like a progressive who demands a complete 'good' before calling it a 'good'. At worst, a person who thinks a thought and chooses not to execute on it might be a bit of a coward. That doesn't mean they don't change with the thought.

You are also failing to grasp the silliness of the arguments that suggest immaterial things aren't real. If something can be experienced subjectively, just place the patient in the fMRI machine and watch the objective change.

One of the neat things we've learned in recent years is that there IS an answer to an old problem. "When I see the color 'red' and you see it and call it 'red' as well, are we doing anything more than using the same word? Are we having similar enough experiences that 'red' is a shared concept with some objective reality?" Turns out the answer is yes/yes and we can see it by watching people's brains.

Alfred Differ said...

Finally, regarding the actual post from our host, I'd point out one other glaring issue for advocates of centralized planning. The AI isn't enough and we've already proven this. Read von Mises. Without market forces prices do not exist. Without prices, central planners simply CANNOT predict our wants. We don't even know them ourselves in a distributed knowledge system that Hayek described.

It's not that Hayek's approach can produce actions that meet the wants of market participants. It's just that his described approach works the best of all the possible ways we could try. NO ONE can beat this theoretical limit including AI's.

There is one way around this. Suppose one invents an AI that solves the central planning problem. Upon examination by an external party, they'd discover we are no longer the humans we are at present. The AI would have to reshape us in some way. Domestication? Genetic engineering? Huxley's manufactured and drugged populace? Yah. Something like that. In reshaping us, the AI would be able to solve the hideously complex Resource Allocation Problem by simplifying us. Instead of approximating the RAP, it would approximate us.

This solution is the one Hayek described a different way in his Road to Serfdom book. A liberal society wanting a better solution for the RAP winds up altering itself along a slow, incremental path. It succeeds at becoming something else, but it never succeeds at solving the RAP. At best it produces an approximation by crushing most people into subsistence level lifestyles.

Alfred Differ said...

afterthought...

There might be one type of AI that could do it, but it would have to be something like one of V Vinge's Powers/Transcendents. Our host has dreamed up one or two that might pull it off too. It certainly won't be a human scale AI, though. It would have to be godlike and even then it might still have to approximate us.

locumranch said...


By selecting AI for party leadership, Professor Feng Xiang may have very well resolved the 'leap of faith' described in the original Communist Manefesto wherein Marx & Engels spell out the revolutionary steps necessary to achieve perfect social equity:

(1) The revolution begins with the conquest of the means of production by labour;
(2) Labour empowers a central state bureaucracy as its sole protector;
(3) The central state bureaucracy redistributes wealth to create social equity; and
(4) The central state then withers away as if by MAGIC, leaving perfect social equality behind it.

Of course, the architects of the Communist Manifesto could not even conceive of how they would achieve their final goal without the assumption of MAGIC, the manifest flaw in their theory being the imperfect self-interested human element which always has & always will refuse to share either goods or power for the collective good.

Enter Feng Xiang who assumes that AI (being inhuman & potentially incorruptible) may fit this bill, jumping to the same conclusion that many transhumanists, futurists and singularity worshippers like to jump to:

That the future of humanity is INHUMANITY.

Like the Alien Network in "The World's End" that discovers that the best & only way to perfect humanity is to replace humanity with selfless blue-blooded automatons.

Now, get back in your rocket and f#ck off back to Legoland, you (weird) (posturing) (communist) c#nts!! We want to be free! We want to be free to do want we want to do! And we want to get loaded!

Any questions?


Best
______

@Larry_H: Bill Maher is pretty woke for a Hollywood progressive, also funny, pro-second amendment & quite misogynistic when not preaching to the converted.

@Alfred: Things are (literally) 'real', but abstractions & ideas (which are not-things) are literally 'not-real', hence the term 'immaterial' meaning not-real, unimportant & irrelevant.

LarryHart said...

locumranch:

@Larry_H: Bill Maher is pretty woke for a Hollywood progressive, also funny, pro-second amendment & quite misogynistic when not preaching to the converted.


You forgot to mention how much he despises Islam. If it wasn't for the atheism, he'd be able to pass for a conservative.


@Alfred: Things are (literally) 'real', but abstractions & ideas (which are not-things) are literally 'not-real', hence the term 'immaterial' meaning not-real, unimportant & irrelevant.


An idea is a noun. Nouns are persons, places and/or things. Ideas aren't persons or places. Therefore ideas are things. Alfred wins again.

Good night, and may God bless the United States of America.

Alfred Differ said...

@locumranch | Get thee to a philosophy class.


... or put on your medical big boy pants and recall that most of us spend most of our time thinking within our perception models. Only occasionally do we glance outward at what our senses provide to take in data we use to adjust those models. Five senses pointing outward. Many, many more pointing inward. Humans spend a great deal of time in your supposedly unimportant place.

You are simply wrong.

gerold said...

Pronouncements by the Chinese leadership are difficult for me to interpret. On the one hand, we know the Mandarins still resort to brutal totalitarian repression to keep their monopoly on political power. That makes all their claims suspect. Brin may over-emphasize this reasonable suspicion however. When Chinese leaders like Xi or Feng describe their vision of future-China there is a recognition that the heavy hand of the state needs to lighten up. I think they might actually believe that.

Feng is not proposing that future AI needs to be an instrument of totalitarian control. He is saying it should provide an impartial metric for economic decisions.

The classic Smithian invisible hand might be just as good, since it enlists the collective judgement of every individual in the economic network to calculate price and value. There is a problem with that model however, as Feng notes. Some people are in a more advantageous position to game the system, and they do it very successfully. Good for them, but bad for the everyone else. It's hard for an open society to prevent that kind of manipulation. It's done behind closed doors, so openness is a non-factor, or even a disadvantage.

That's where a true transcendent AI could be a more effective arbiter. It needn't make decisions for people, but it could provide oversight to prevent corrupt dealing by bad actors.

Which gets us to another difficult question: the threat/opportunity of a true transcendent AI. Brin rightly notes that an AI developed as an enforcement arm of the Chinese dictatorship could be expected to mature in a dangerous and malevolent direction. It's like the Terminator scenario: Skynet was designed as a threat-response system in charge of strategic WMD's. When it woke up, the first thing on its mind was eliminating threats, and mankind could very plausibly appear as one.

The best way to get an enlightened AI is for it to have enlightened parents. A good way to get a malevolent one is for it to have evil parents. The Chinese security apparatus has a long tradition of evil, using every weapon in the arsenal of the totalitarian state to control and suppress the people. They can not be permitted to spawn a transcendent AI. Maybe it would immediately evolve into a state of Taoist wisdom, but what if instead it went for Maoist self-worship? Not cool.

The whole "robots are coming for your jobs" mantra is ridiculous. If robots are sufficiently productive they can pay displaced workers a living wage and still turn a profit. They will liberate us from drudgery, not send us to the breadline. Luddite scare-mongering should be granted an eye-roll, no more.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Just to have another gallop around the place on my hobbyhorse

We have lead in petrol almost certainly responsible for a major upsurge in violent crime
We have lead in petrol possibly being responsible for less than optimum politics by Boomers and Generation X

I'm going to add a third possibility - I just started re-reading an older Sci Fi story and it was bleak - cities were horrible places full of crime and violence
ALL science fiction was like that - and MOST still is - everybody KNEW that things were getting worse and that would continue
WE knew that because it was visible in the crime figures

We then built a society knowing that it had to deal with this growing criminal subclass - we knew that we needed harsher penalties longer sentences stronger policing - just looking at the increase in violent crime confirmed that was needed

The crime wave ebbed and dropped - but we had moved societies response away from Rehabilitation and towards Retribution and Punishment

This also made Nixon's "War on Drugs" more palatable - fed fuel to the flames

Should lead in petrol take part of the blame for the US's Justice Culture? - for the fact that the US is the world leader in incarceration?

Lead in petrol hit the USA harder than anywhere else - you guys had the car culture when the rest of the world was still cycling to work

But did it damage your culture a lot more than a first look would show?

While I'm galloping away - the USA used to be called the "Land of the Brave" - recently with terrorists and guns the "Land of the Afraid" seems more accurate

Back in the 60's, 70's and 80's there was the continual risk of nuclear warfare - Not Kim and his bomb (singular) but the USSR and their thousands of bombs
But the US people were NOT afraid - worried yes but not afraid

Now the risks are thousands of times less and the fear is greater

Is the "Fear" general or is it the Baby Boomers and Generation X who are now at the ages 40 to 70 and basically in charge of everything who are afraid?
Did the lead we ingested as children make scaredy cats of us?

LarryHart said...

Duncan Cairncross:

the USA used to be called the "Land of the Brave" - recently with terrorists and guns the "Land of the Afraid" seems more accurate


I noticed the same thing during the W Bush years, and it made me sick.


Is the "Fear" general or is it the Baby Boomers and Generation X who are now at the ages 40 to 70 and basically in charge of everything who are afraid?
Did the lead we ingested as children make scaredy cats of us?


Well, in my own personal case, I was much more of a coward at 20, and have become braver as 60 becomes visible in the windshield. That's partially because I've already had many good years and partially because of cynicism about the future which leads to "nothing left to lose". But there's some element I can't explain that has to do with the purely visceral fear reaction to perceived threats. There are situations I'm sure I wouldn't want to be in, but I can think about them now without the freak-out terrifying reaction that was more common in my youth.

And I'm not disagreeing with you that the country seems to have gone in the opposite direction. I'm questioning whether it's ascribable to an entire generation, or if there's something specific about those who shape culture and government at this time.

Dave Sim would blame feminism. He's say men have stopped being manly and become more feminized, and that's why we can't stand up to the smallest of threats. I disagree with the implied premise. Republicans, who are more anti-feminist seem also to be the ones projecting more cowardice, which is why I keep pointing out that they're the real snowflakes. New Yorkers didn't hide in their basements after 9/11, and neither did Chicagoans or Los Angelinos. It was Republicans in congress and the executive branch who salivated at giving up our rights in the name of letting Big Brother keep us safe.

Point being, while you do raise a good question, I wonder if there's something more specific to a certain subset of the generation--a subset which projects outsized power and influence--than the generation as a whole.

Something which just occurred to me as I'm typing: could the mechanism be more related to drug use than to lead? The pillars of the community in my parents' day were straight arrows, whereas virtually every baby boomer (all exceptions duly noted) smoke pot, and the higher they are on the socio-economic scale, the more likely they seem to be into cocaine. And to all appearances on the nightly news, the entire Republican base is snorting opioids. Even if we limit the discussion to legal drugs, this generation seems to be hooked on the regular use of pharmaceuticals more than any past generation was. Just sayin'.

LarryHart said...

It's like they looked into my head and made a comic strip about what's in there:

http://comicskingdom.com/zits/2018-06-10

BobF said...

A far deeper dive than Feng Xiang is Philosophy and History: Interpreting the “Xi Jinping Era.

I'm also thinking of the idea of a singular optimum into which all the parts fit neatly. The alternative is to think of the world as inherently ambiguous. In that world, AI is still an issue but as the ultimate bureaucrat.

The danger, in the short term, is that a centrally planned system can be optimized for the present and gain temporary advantage thwart opportunity for better while hiding rot within. AI can exacerbate the risk.

David Brin said...

Does anyone know a way to tell MS Word NOT to automatically hyperlink a URL or email address that I type? I hate it. I never use that. I waste countless hours UNlinking highlighted URLs and email addresses. I do not want this “help.” I have searched fruitlessly for a way to turn it off.

Cormac Williams said...

Erm from Googles' first link.

When it’s not convenient to have Office automatically create hyperlinks in your document as you type, you can turn them off.

In Office 2010 and later:

Click File > Options > Proofing.

(In Outlook, click File > Options > Mail > Editor Options > Proofing.)

In Office 2007:

Click the Microsoft Office button, and then click Options > Proofing.

(In Outlook, open a new message, click the Microsoft Office button, and then click Editor Options > Proofing.)

Click AutoCorrect Options, and then click the AutoFormat As You Type tab.

Clear the Internet and network paths with hyperlinks check box.

Regards,
Cormac.

David Brin said...

cogent remarks by gerold, Alfred and… (cough) locumranch, who must have taken megadose vitamins before typing his critique (surly and oversimplifying but interesting) about final phase communist revolution.

Nevertheless, as LarryHart points out, the US right has given itself over to endless pumping of fear and endlessly masturbating to it. Fox is essentially a pornography channel.

David Brin said...

Thanks Cormac. It helped! Only not as intended. Alas, as usual with any advice re Microsoft products, there was no step along the path you described that overlapped with what I saw in front of me. There's no general program "Office," which is simply a folder in which I have Word, Outlook and the only sane MS product, Power Point. In neither Word nor Outlook is there an "Options" menu item, under "file" or anywhere else I look. I do have "Preferences," but there is no such thing as "proofing."

And yet.... I did search and found the AutoFormat As You Type tab!! And finally found the check box. And it seems to have worked.

I am grateful.

Mike Will said...

In discussions of AI and its challenges to governments and economists, I'm always reminded of this line about physiology:

"The idea that we are consciously care-taking such a large and mysterious system is ludicrous."
- Lynn Margulis

Jon S. said...

"A Big Brother that no Orwell could ever have imagined."

I refer you to the venerable (as such things go) role-playing game Paranoia, and its various versions over the years. The Computer is your friend! Trust the Computer! The Computer wants you to be happy! Happiness is mandatory!

(Brief overview: A massive disaster was heading for Earth. Massive underground complexes were built for humanity, governed by a central AI. Unfortunately, as the disaster struck, an old ICBM base in Siberia, maintained as a museum, woke up and flooded the central AI with Cold-War-era data. In the wake of the disaster, all the complexes were cut off from one another, and the AI "calved", each complex believing itself to be the one true Alpha Complex. Any rumors to the contrary are commie propaganda.
(In the centuries since, the programs have been meddled with by the highest-security personnel, Ultraviolet-level Administrators, for their own purposes. The result is a governing AI with severe Dissociative Identity Disorder and heavy levels of paranoia.
(The tone can be summarized like so: Being a mutant is treason. Being a member of a secret society is treason. Every player character is a Troubleshooter, serving the Computer by rooting out traitors. Every player character is also a mutant and a member of a secret society. Total Party Kills are common enough that each character is one of six clones, with replacements being delivered by an automated system when the current PC is killed.)

locumranch said...


Famous for identifying "The unobservable market force that helps the demand and supply of goods in a free market to reach equilibrium automatically", aka the 'Invisible Hand of the Marketplace', Adam Smith spent the bulk of his career attempting to effect centralised top-down moral control over this automatic & self-regulating economic system, leaving Marx & Engels (as identified by their attempts to manipulate, control & pervert a self-regulating marketplace to their own ends) as Adam Smith's moral inheritors.

Centralised top-down economic control (aka 'Communism'), then, is the end result of self-deluding meddling moralism, a rejection of scientific process in favour of the idealism of 'should', 'ought' & 'supposed to', and a perverted attempt to alter the factual basis of an empirically-derived economic theory.

Much like the equally deluded progressive, the deluded commie idealist assumes that the FACTS of human nature are somehow 'perfectible' and 'negotiable', only to declare that "Communism should, ought to & is supposed to work", despite incontrovertible historical evidence to the contrary.

The adoption of AI is yet another attempt to eliminate an imperfect humanity from the moral economic equation, as both human leaders (aka 'potential tyrants') & human labourers (aka 'self-interested layabouts') repudiate and belie the idealistic moral assumptions that make the replacement of humanity desirable.

We can only pray that this attempt at human replacement fails because it MUST fail, elsewise humanity as we known it will be entirely destroyed -- rendered extinct -- and all human hopes, dreams & aspirations will be for naught, all for the sake of inhuman economic efficiency.

https://www.economist.com/node/13092819

This is Taylorism (Scientific Management) by another name, this mechanistic approach to human socioeconomic interaction. It is the reason why the modern worker has become increasingly insane, self-destructive & sterile, and it is the reason why that western socioeconomic model is both unsustainable & in terminal decline.


Best
____

@Alfred & Larry_H: My argument about what is 'real' is purely semantic, having to do with language meaning (which is recursive) & logic (which is not recursive), and you err when you assume it 'philosophical'. Get thee a dictionary & an etymology reference,

Anonymous said...


What this photograph tells me is that Angela Merkel is now the true leader, by right of the group of 7 and that Donald Trump, has become the small, irrational and stupid child.

Link:

http://www.sinembargo.mx/10-06-2018/3427384


Winter7

locumranch said...



Lolz, Winter7: Get some psychiatric help
cause your Oedipus Complex is on full display.

Best

Anonymous said...

Yes. Certainly Alfred. Ideas and responsibilities can be left to the following generations. But I do not want to leave responsibilities to my descendants (in the unlikely event that I can start a family in Mexico). I prefer to be the one who undertakes the ideas that occurred to me. And if it is dangerous ideas. I prefer to leave these ideas to humanity, from my death bed, to launch my last messages through the Internet, when, in three hundred years I am dying.
But if it's about ideas on how to stop global warming, those ideas will be left to my family members, with the hope that in the future they can find fertile land so that my ideas germinate and produce the fruits that save the humanity.
Because you and David frequently mention Friedrich A. Hayek, I searched and got three books from him:
Prices and production; Road of servitude; The foundations of freedom. I wonder if I should read Noam Chomsky first.

Winter7

Anonymous said...


Go, go, go. Locumranch has been upset because I insulted Donald Trump.
The best way to get the truth out of a confederate is by touching it on what hurts the most: Donald Trump.
Now we know it. Locumranch has secret fantasies related to Donald Trump.
Now I have a more precise idea of what Locumranch is like: A "Bufalo Bill", of the silence of the innocents. Someone twisted, who has not come out of the closet.

Saludos.

winter7

Anonymous said...

This research shows that it would be healthy for Locumranch to change religion:

https://medicalxpress.com/news/2014-10-judaism-suicide.html#nRlv


Winter7

David Brin said...

“Adam Smith spent the bulk of his career attempting to effect centralised top-down moral control over this automatic & self-regulating economic system”

Wow! Although the vitamins are working(!) and locum is at his best, pointing out something interesting and true… that doesn’t affect his fundamental looniness and dishonesty.

Yes, every society operates under consensus rules. That is both the definition of “society” and the purpose of politics. Smith was the first - since Pericles - to argue cogently for the error-discovery and correction systems that arise when political power is maximally distributed into groups too small to have obligate power, under consensus rules that minimized cheating while maximizing positive-sum outcomes from general freedom for individuals and small groups to make their own fair bargains.

Marx approved! Admired Smith! Marx felt this process would (1) propel a very creative/successful bourgeoise industrialization era, and (2) inevitably end with cheaters gaining the upper hand. The roosevelteans (the “Greatest Generation”) proved that it did not have to go that way, that cheating can be forestalled through consensus reforms. Though now it looks more and more like Marx was indeed a prophet. Just delayed.

In any event, Smith’s program has worked better than all other systems and societies combined, in every conceivable measure and metric, from wealth to happiness to ending stupid wastes of talent, all the way to a vastly greater sapience in our ability to step back and evaluate our own (and nature’s) complex systems.

All of which is masked by poor locum’s fury and ingrate-resentment. Howling at humanity’s greatest success while never, ever, ever showing the guts to offer his own alternative.

“We can only pray that this attempt at human replacement fails because it MUST fail, elsewise humanity as we known it will be entirely destroyed -- rendered extinct -- and all human hopes, dreams & aspirations will be for naught, all for the sake of inhuman economic efficiency.”

Yeah, yeah blah blah blah. Some of this is genuine danger… and you have no basis for saying any of it, knowing nothing and offering zero evidence. If we fall into these traps, your “i told you so” will only get you lynched, since you didn’t lift a finger. If we evade them, you will have just been farts in the wind.

Treebeard said...

Winter, that isn't surprising to me. Judaism seems different than other religions in its focus on this world, and its idea that our purpose is to fix this creation, rather than focus on the eternal hereafter. This would explain why Jews are always spearheading progressive projects and are so manic about building this or that world-saving movement, ideology or institution, where Muslims, Christians, Buddhists and Hindus tend to be more like “whatever dude, this world is unfixable and doomed, better luck in the hereafter or in the next incarnation”. And it's a mentality that Jews seem to retain even when they become atheists and no longer have any theological basis for their world-fixing project. I really think this is at the root of a lot of world events and conflicts, but you don't much hear about this sort of thing in a modern secular education. But that's the big secret the Enlightenment Cult most fears: that it's not physics, but metaphysics that moves the world.

David Brin said...

Good lord! Have we entered Poul Anderson's "smart zone" of the galaxy? Is there something in the air? First locumranch says so true (if warped) things that are interesting, if tendentious toward looniness.

Then... Treebeard offer us a post that is cogent and insightful till the last sentence...

...which lapses back to offering a snarl unsupported by anything but armwaved vapor. Still, wow, you guys are rollin'!

LarryHart said...

locumranch:

My argument about what is 'real' is purely semantic, having to do with language meaning (which is recursive) & logic (which is not recursive), and you err when you assume it 'philosophical'. Get thee a dictionary & an etymology reference,


I wasn't arguing over "real", but over "not a thing". Sure, ideas aren't real in the sense that they aren't made of matter nor do they occupy three-dimensional space. However, they are "things" in the sense of "a noun is a person, place, or thing." Get thee a DVD of "Schoolhouse Rock".


Winter7: Get some psychiatric help
cause your Oedipus Complex is on full display.


??? And I know what an Oedipus complex is, but I have no idea what you're ascribing that to.

David Brin said...

Funny how all across the world, around 500 BCE, there arose persuasive sages who preached similar things. Socrates, Buddha, Lao Tze and Confucious... and others.

"This world is a mess and your perceptions of it are inherently delusional. No matter how close you look, you'll never know the pure essence of, say, this chair."

They then concluded -- as did Jesus, 500 years later -- "Give up!" Turn away from the world. Seek to deal a new hand through (variously) logic and reason, or abnegation of the ego, or the mandate of heaven, or prayer.

You can't blame them. There was little we could do to physically and objectively deal a new hand, but subjective incantations DID help a little, to quench the ongoing pain.

Till we advanced far enough that our hands started filling with tools that DID affect the hand we were dealt. And Galileo said: "I can never know perfectly what this chair "is." but I can carve away the ten million things that it is NOT!" And disproving what's untrue will be a pretty darn good substitute for declaring what's perfectly true."

And that's true. Physics beats metaphysics in every category, every metric, every conceivable spectrum. We are becoming mighty beings. And the path ahead ... well, if there is a God, he clearly wants us to hurry along it.

Anonymous said...

David Brin:

Of course, Adam Smith's program is magnificent. And very well polished in the details by Hayeck. The problem is when the books and laws of Adam Smith are used as sanitary paper by politicians, as in Mexico.
It is said that the constitution of Mexico is much better than that of the United States. The problem is that Mexican politicians use the constitution as a health paper every day and make amendments over and over again, amendments that allow them to steal and loot the nation's riches in such a way that even if they are discovered, it is not legally possible to prosecute them. . That is what feudal politicians do with our plans to create a better world.
I'm not being cynical. I am not making fun of the noble and intelligent work that you, the true patriots, perform. I simply show the hero Beowulf, what are the powers of the monster Grendel, which he plans to defeat. For the first step to defeat an enemy is to know him. And certainly, the oligarchies are more powerful than the Grendel monster.
I like mythology more than philosophy, because mythology comes more precisely and effectively to the essence of humanity's problems.
Beowulf will need a powerful sword or spell this time.

Winter7

David Brin said...

The Union needs a Lincoln to explain what's at stake, and a Grant to lead us to victory.

Tim H. said...

Pardon the TV metaphors, but I think it's useful to say progressives wish to create the Federation, while contemporary conservatives wish entire nation to resemble Hazard County, with theirselves as "Boss Hogg".
Not just Grant, Mark Twain is a useful window to view what Republicans used to be.

locumranch said...


Treebeard ain't just whistling Dixie when he suggests that metaphysics is "the big secret (of) the Enlightenment Cult".

In more ways than one, this is exactly the case as Enlightenment thinking grew out of the Hellenistic Revival, the three main schools being Cynicism, Stoicism & Epicureanism, which (in turn) gave rise to the disciplines of Skepticism & Empiricism which figure prominently in the 'Age of Reason'.

Through the teachings of Josephus & Philo, the goal-oriented metaphysics of Stoicism figures prominently in later Jewish & early Christian religious canon, some of the details being available here:

https://leonardooh.wordpress.com/2008/10/01/%E2%80%98jewish-stoicism%E2%80%99-analyzing-the-evidence-of-stoic-influence-in-judaic-christian-thought/

The US Constitution was strongly influenced by the Hellenistic mindset, especially the emphasis on individual liberty & freedom, as these are core Cynic & Stoic concepts. Most of the US founding fathers were also 'Deists' as well as Christian, and Thomas Jefferson was a zealous admirer of Epicurean & Stoic philosophy, as detailed below in his letter to William Short:

https://www.csun.edu/~hcfll004/jefflet.html

Defined as "a social or political movement that aims to represent the interests of ordinary people through political change and the support of government actions" & despite argument to the contrary, the Modern Progressive movement has very little in common with either the Hellenistic Revival of the Enlightenment or Judeo-Christian religious precepts.

Progressivism has not only abandoned a belief in God (most specifically Deism), it has abandoned the principles of Stoic Renunciation & Individualism and it has chosen to transform itself into an irrational stew of rampant emotionalism (aka 'Feelz'), thoughtless collectivism & a godless hedonism variant incompatible with traditional Epicureanism.

In effect & by its own admission, the Modern Progressive movement has become an inadvertent & self-parodic Black Mass, a religion without a god, a physic without either 'meta' or health-giving properties, a belief system without purpose, and a discipline bereft of even vestigial discipline.

And, as you can see, it isn't even as bad as what David, Treebeard or I thought:

It is a thousand times worse.


Best

yana said...

An AI developed by China will not always fail, but any AI designed by a secretive political group will certainly fail. If the primary aim of the group is to perpetuate political hegemony, then any AI it produces will have a hand-brake built in, because power is the father of paranoia.

We already have a widely known fable about this, Clarke's HAL9000 went nutso because he was told to lie. Yes, China will develop a true AI. They're really investing heavily in the effort today, a cluster of research placements a couple dozen miles out of Beijing, attracting real talent.

But still not worried a whit here, about the future. Other places will develop equivalently capable AI's at about the same time (if not sooner). And not all of the groups with new pets will be secretive political groups. Google, MIT, Stanford, Amazon, Carnegie-Mellon, Facebook, CERN, IBM, Walmart. And yes, China and the NSA too, and Interpol, and the neo-KGB (whatever Don Putty is calling it these days, over at 55 Savush'a Street.)

Operating at the speed of photons, yet cumbered by the speed of human thought, it should still only take a few months to see which ones work best. Shouldn't have to spell it out here, but the AI's from groups which have to balance revenue with customer happiness will end up working better than AI's from political groups.

An old story but one worth retelling, on the early internet there was a bot of a website, a database loaded with aphorisms from various religions, a simple algorithm dispensed holy water based on query keywords. Our old pal Archimedes, updated. Thing is, a subset of netizens got really freaked out about it. Here, we know that horoscopy is bullschnatt and parapsychology simply hasn't ever shown us the goods. But darned if that wisdombot didn't have moments of eerie cogency.

Yes, it was simply the intersection of coincidence and our natural fascination for metaphysics. Same thing makes cold-read seances profitable. After the coming wave of big AI's, we'll all have our own, a more-true avatar which can purchase for us, and will probably get some sort of power of attorney for us, sooner or later. But in the first iteration of AI, the large ones, China's will be a spectacular failure. Not technologically faulty, but a signature failure because of the scale, and because it will be imprinted with paranoia.

But hope that's a self-deflating prophecy because it's wrong to single China out. It is a great nation, a great civilization. Years past, picked a topic to summer-read, and last year it was early China: geology, archaeology, prehistory and early history, plus a healthy sprinkling of folklore and philosophy. Main takeaway was that China and the Chinese are awesome. Second insight was that the current government over there is totally understandable, given where they come from.

OMG, what a lost opportunity to the US, scrapping the TPP. It really was a gold standard, we got everything we reasonably sought in the talks. But the real effect of the TPP would have been the democraticization of China a couple decades ahead of schedule. The only risk with the TPP was a Sino-American trade war... ahh crap.

yana said...

locumranch:

"the Modern Progressive movement has very little in common with either the Hellenistic Revival of the Enlightenment or Judeo-Christian religious precepts"

Not certain that's accurate. Wasn't the 18c classical revival concurrent with an inaccurate idealization of Periclean Athens, currently expressed by "progressive" efforts to loosen restrictions on voting? In judeospeak, there's "Hatred stirreth up strifes: and charity covereth all sins." In christotalk, there's "above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins." Kinda sounds like "progressive" chitter-chatter, right there.

David Brin said...

Wow. Erudition! Much of it absolutely wrong. Still, it made for an interesting skim and I even felt a little interested...

...till the usual non-sequitur howl set in. Ah.. ah.. ah.. oooooooooooooooooh! Pampered coward ingrate. That part never changes.

yana said...

David Brin:
"Pampered coward ingrate."

Feel my howls have been fairly sequential, and your trilog there is thrice false.

gerold said...

David: "Funny how all across the world, around 500 BCE, there arose persuasive sages who preached similar things. Socrates, Buddha, Lao Tze and Confucious... and others."

Yes - Karl Jaspers described it as the "Axial Age", (Achsenzeit) a time when the great civilizations of the Old World made a quantum leap in self-awareness.

I call it the First Enlightenment, because it's so similar to the subsequent ones. When you look at the evolution of culture in terms of complexity theory it's expected that systems will make periodic state-transitions as their total knowledge and information processing capabilities increase.

It's pretty easy to see in hindsight. More difficult to recognize that we're in another Enlightenment right now. The pace and direction of social evolution today is much like the previous Enlightenment (1650 - 1800), and again it attracts the hatred and fear of conservatives. We have our own representative of the ilk here in the person of locumranch, dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st Century, along with his fellow-travelers Trump and ISIS.

Reactionaries can dig in heels and pound their little fists on the floor, but the momentum of cultural evolution is bigger than any of us.

Along with the inevitability of Enlightenment is the coming AI singularity. Look at the entire history of life on earth. Despite every setback there has been an unstoppable trench toward greater complexity and increased intelligence. A transcendent AI is the next step. Fearful conservatives (Fundies, both Christian and Muslim, dictatorial regimes like Russia and China) will try to stop it but they will fail.

Alfred Differ said...

@locumranch | You are still attached to the silly idea that a dictionary defines language when it works the other way around. Dictionaries contain the results of discovery processes and are necessarily incomplete. The ones that try for the most completion are gargantuan and still most most of the icebergs floating under the waterline.

One of the groups to which discovery processes should be applied has in it the philosophers and scientists. If you are thinking, you are doing something real and measurable. If you are capable of pulling back a memory, an action had to have occurred creating it.

You cling to your dictionary like a Flat Earth believer.
Take a peek at Hofstadter's 'Surfaces and Essences' book for some enlightenment.

Alfred Differ said...

I don't think it is fair to Smith to argue that HE argued for centralized, top-down moral control of anything. He recognized how our code of ethics manifested in a free market (focusing mostly on Prudence), but was generally negative about control systems that did more than punish people who violated the emergent rules of the system. He came from a Common Law culture, so he would have known the difference between emergent law and written legislation.

Hayek focused mostly on the emergent rules and put aside considerations of how they instantiate our code of ethics. Smith was a moral philosopher and did not avoid the topic even if he did treat with only part of the full set of virtues of his time.

yana said...

gerold:

"I call it the First Enlightenment..."

Early, but not first. The progression is clear by now, from fear to animism, then to anthropomorphism, then pantheism, and on to monotheism. So the LaoTzu/Gautama/KungFuTze wave was really humanity's 4th "enlightement."

"More difficult to recognize that we're in another Enlightenment right now."

Not difficult at all, it's the 3rd communications revolution. But that's the only other nit to pick in your post, the rest of what you wrote is pretty good, even if colored by politics. I would put a singularity twenty years past your prediction, but that's not a nit to pick, that's just a wager opportunity :-)

Alfred Differ said...

@winter7 | Well... with your preference for actions that produce a better world, I hope you manage to do that AND start a family. The world needs more kids who learn those kinds of lessons from their parents.

Regarding Hayek's books, I would recommend avoiding his economics texts. It's not that they aren't interesting. It's that he left the field upon realizing there were problems with the entire field. Economics was being treated mathematically as if it could be a science and he came to strongly disagree with that trend. He moved across into other areas of 'social science' settling in among people I tend to think of as philosophers.

'The Road to Serfdom' is his answer to a question a lot of academics were asking themselves during and after WWII. How the heck did THAT happen?! One of his peers (Karl Popper) did something similar with 'The Open Society and its Enemies'. The two books work well together. One thing about Hayek's book, though. The English word he chose in the title is 'serfdom' instead of 'servitude'. That's actually important. Much of what he wrote about overtly described what happened in Germany between WWI and WWII, but serfdom intentionally hinted at what was happening in the Soviet Union and earlier under Russian Czars. What he wanted to do was scare the British somewhat into avoiding what he obviously saw as their rush down a path toward being bodily owned by their governing class. This goal in the book couldn't be stated overtly because it came out before WWII ended, but he definitely DID intend it.

Before that he wrote a number of smaller essays that were brought together as 'Individualism and Economic Order' and it is in these essays that one can see him make the transition. It came out after the war was over and censors were not as concerned anymore.

In what might be called 'political economy' you'll find Hayek's first big effort at describing 'liberty' It is called 'The Constitution of Liberty'. It has a three volume sequel that came out in the 70's under 'Law, LIberty, & Legislation.' These books are descriptions of what he thought was fundamental to our Enlightenment civilization.

The odd one in the whole mix is one looking at the foundations under theoretical psychology called 'The Sensory Order'. Few people seem to pay it much attention, but it is still interesting as a comparison to some stuff Popper was writing for his multi-world concept. As I understand it, Hayek was in the US establishing residence in order to get a divorce from his first wife, so after that event, his academic life went in the final philosophical direction and some look past this one to his work on liberty. I don't, though.

Finally, the most readable of anything with his name on it is a book supposedly edited by someone who worked closely with him. Anyone who reads Hayek closely knows the relationship was probably closer to co-authorship or even completing the work Hayek couldn't finish. 'The Fatal Conceit - The Errors of Socialism' came out as Hayek's health finally failed. It likely says what Hayek wanted to say, but as Bartley actually said it. The book is structured much like Hayek's earlier 'shoe box method' books, but the voice emerging from the pages doesn't sound like a stuffy, Austrian academic who probably still thought in German.

LarryHart said...

yana:

David Brin:
"Pampered coward ingrate."

Feel my howls have been fairly sequential, and your trilog there is thrice false.


He wasn't referring to you.

LarryHart said...

locumranch:

In more ways than one, this is exactly the case as Enlightenment thinking grew out of the Hellenistic Revival, the three main schools being Cynicism, Stoicism & Epicureanism, which (in turn) gave rise to the disciplines of Skepticism & Empiricism which figure prominently in the 'Age of Reason'.
...


Some of those tweets don't seem to actually have been written by Donald Trump, if you know what I mean.

LarryHart said...

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/10/opinion/g7-trump-quebec-trudeau.html

The alliance between the United States and Western Europe has accomplished great things. It won two world wars in the first half of the 20th century. Then it expanded to include its former enemies and went on to win the Cold War, help spread democracy and build the highest living standards the world has ever known.

President Trump is trying to destroy that alliance.

Is that how he thinks about it? Who knows. It’s impossible to get inside his head and divine his strategic goals, if he even has long-term goals. But put it this way: If a president of the United States were to sketch out a secret, detailed plan to break up the Atlantic alliance, that plan would bear a striking resemblance to Trump’s behavior.

It would involve outward hostility to the leaders of Canada, Britain, France, Germany and Japan. Specifically, it would involve picking fights over artificial issues — not to win big concessions for the United States, but to create conflict for the sake of it.
...

Jon S. said...

Yana, I do believe Dr. Brin was addressing the loco one, not you. You've given no indication of being either a pampered ingrate, nor a coward; loco, on the other hand, caused me to stop reading his posts a few years ago, and I don't feel that I've lost anything in the transaction.

And while I think your analysis of the problem with a central AI constructed by the Chinese government is on the whole pretty accurate, you misidentified the problem with HAL. Its problem was that its preprogrammed directives included keeping the astronauts onboard fully informed of all relevant data - but a later update included relevant data which it was ordered to keep secret from the astronauts. The conflict between the opposing directives was what drove it insane, eventually concluding that the only way to follow both directives was to kill everyone aboard.

Unless the Chinese programmers were foolish enough to include a directive regarding honesty, that's not the failure mode I would foresee. Instead, it would be more like the Alpha Complex Master Computer I referenced earlier, where part of the problem is that its software has been modified multiple times by people with their own agendas. Various parts of the AI are actually in conflict with other parts, because of opposing directives programmed by different people. It makes for a darkly humorous game to play - but it would be a horrific life.

LarryHart said...

from the same NY Times article above:

I don’t know the answer. But it’s past time to take seriously the only explanation for all of Trump’s behavior: He wants to destroy the Western alliance.


And this is where I'm starting to disagree with the "Pence would be worse" faction. No matter what Pence might wish to do, he wouldn't have the backing of the brownshirts which cows the Republican Party into falling in line. There'd be more socio-political pushback against Pence's most egregious actions. Or put another way, Pence doesn't have Mule powers.

Trump, on the other hand, is a clear and present danger. "It's happening, Reg! Something is actually happening!"

Paul451 said...

From the previous thread:

Locumranch,
"I detest the sloppy & imprecise use of language."

No you don't, twisting people's words is pretty much your whole shtick.

--

From the main article:

David,
"it will involve some redistribution of ownership, likely vesting all citizens in shares of the means of production. (A much better solution than universal welfare income"

Nationalising large businesses and thinly distributing owner-shares - vs - taxing them and distributing UBI. What's the difference?

--

Feng Xiang,
(Paraphrasing) "Centralisation of power is bad! Therefore centralisation of power is good!"

Not specifically the flaw in Feng Xiang's arguments, but in Marxism in general:

I haven't read at all deeply into communist dialectic, but surely at least one Communist-apologist has responded when someone points out the blinding obvious contradiction. How do advocates of Communism explain away the similarity between a powerless proletariat under a capitalist owner-oligarchy and a powerless proletariat under single party rule?

--

Gerold,
"The whole "robots are coming for your jobs" mantra is ridiculous. If robots are sufficiently productive they can pay displaced workers a living wage and still turn a profit. They will liberate us from drudgery, not send us to the breadline. Luddite scare-mongering should be granted an eye-roll, no more."

It can go either way, depending on who owns the robots. Just because the robot's owners "can" pay displaced workers, doesn't mean they are compelled by some innate aspect of capitalism (or automation.) They could just as easily not do that, and will, unless acted on by an outside force. (See the short-story/essay Manna.)

And as an example, the growing divergence in the US between the median and mean wage over the last thirty+ years shows that the US is heading in the wrong direction.

Paul451 said...

Larry,
"And this is where I'm starting to disagree with the "Pence would be worse" faction. No matter what Pence might wish to do, he wouldn't have the backing of the brownshirts which cows the Republican Party into falling in line."

But remember, there are #nogoodrepublicans. Everyone assumed Trump's stupidity and criminal venality would be tempered by the old hands in the party.

LarryHart said...

Paul451:

David,
"it will involve some redistribution of ownership, likely vesting all citizens in shares of the means of production. (A much better solution than universal welfare income"

Nationalising large businesses and thinly distributing owner-shares - vs - taxing them and distributing UBI. What's the difference?


I think he's getting at the difference between ownership and welfare. The difference is not so much in the dollar amounts as in human dignity.

LarryHart said...

Paul451:

But remember, there are #nogoodrepublicans. Everyone assumed Trump's stupidity and criminal venality would be tempered by the old hands in the party.


Yeah, I invented that one. But it was mainly a reaction to the realization that no one with any actual influence over Republican Party policy was going to rein in the excesses of Trump himself. I never considered "There are no good Republicans" to be a truism until that deference began happening. And that comes out of some quality of Trump himself, whether that quality is his salesmanship, his loyal brownshirt base, or his Mule powers.

In any case, it's a function of the man himself. As the Mule's empire couldn't survive his death, neither can Trump's influence over the party survive his removal. But the damage he does every day may well do so. Unless there's a Second Foundation out there that's going to somehow get us back on track.

donzelion said...

While our host was away, a story came up that ties directly with one of his most frequent concerns: http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-border-patrol-video-app-2018-story.html

"Filming police with cellphones or body cameras became so common after high-profile shootings of black men in Ferguson, Mo., Baltimore and Chicago that there’s a word for it: “copwatching.” But the practice never spread to the U.S.-Mexico border — until now."

Bear in mind that the US-Mexico border is the most militarized border in the world between two allied states, and quite likely the most defended border among any states other than NK/SK. Few Americans observe the effects of this militarization in practice - at least, few with white skin.

One of the more unfortunate aspects of the Obama Administration is that the draconian policies by ICE and Border Patrol were unfilmed: most Democrats had no idea just how cruel they could be. As nobody knew how crazy the enforcement system has long been the Reps thought Obama (the 'deporter in chief') was doing 'nothing.'

Latinos knew better: as soon as they realized that Obama would be the 'deporter in chief' - they stayed home in 2010 (and shrugged when Reps took back Congress). Few of the 'progressive Dems' stuck their necks out for Latinos except to score points in a debate (cough, Hillary) - Obama tried a few tricks after the 2014 elections, but the fact that Trump is a monster doesn't impress them.

Of course, there are detractors -
"Critics say the apps encourage immigrants who are in the country illegally to flout the law."

- and as usual, such detractors know very little of the law they claim is being flouted.

LarryHart said...

donzelion:

Of course, there are detractors -
"Critics say the apps encourage immigrants who are in the country illegally to flout the law."

- and as usual, such detractors know very little of the law they claim is being flouted.


Oh, I think they understand exactly the law that is being flouted. That is, the unwritten law which demands submission to law enforcement and prohibits sympathy for their victims.

David Brin said...

This happens daily. Name one Clinton "scandal" that would be 1% as bad... if it were true. "Ivanka Trump's business has won approval from the Chinese government for at least five new trademarks. The approval came just days before President Donald Trump announced he was working on a controversial deal to drop U.S. prohibitions against China cellphone manufacturer ZTE."

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/28/business/ivanka-trump-china-trademarks.html

"President Xi of China, and I, are working together to give massive Chinese phone company, ZTE, a way to get back into business, fast. Too many jobs in China lost. Commerce Department has been instructed to get it done!" Trump tweet at 8:01am ET- 13 May 2018.

Meanwhile, some 72 hours before his tweet about ZTE, China had quietly agreed to loan $500 million to an Indonesian theme park project in which the president is a partner. Chinese banks agreed to loan an additional $500 million to the project. Yes, that would round out to $1B.

Again, this happens daily. Name one Clinton "scandal" that would be 1% as bad... if it were true. But here's the deal. None of the accusations about the Clintons was ever, ever true.

Half a *billion* dollars of mostly our money was spent — across 24 years — investigating the Clintons, the most thoroughly probed humans in the history of our species. Every document scrutinized, every micro assistant grilled. George Bush diverted federal investigators from anti-terror duties, before 9/11 (which should have been a huge scandal) to sift every federal filing cabinet for some smoking gun. The Kochs offered gigantic rewards for whistle blowers to rat out the alleged "secret Clinton deals and travesties." Fox offered lucrative commentator posts and other incentives.

And after all that, what did we wind up with? A husband fibbed about some 3rd base adult-consensual infidelity in a hallway... and the wife was caught using exactly the same sort of somewhat improper email system as Colin Powell, Dick Cheney, John McCain, Mike Pence, George Bush and Jared Kushner. (Oh and our current president ignores advice, using a completely unsecured Galaxy 3 for calls and tweets.)

Please tell me YOU would survive a quarter century of probes costing half a billion dollars, with open bribes offered to every single person you ever trusted. It really is that pure. Clintons are proved clean... almost absolutely clean. Trump-Fox are proved dirty daily. So often it has faded into background noise.

donzelion said...

LarryHart: "Oh, I think they understand exactly the law that is being flouted. That is, the unwritten law which demands submission to law enforcement and prohibits sympathy for their victims."

Actually, there is a written law which demands submission to law enforcement; if you can get to this article, it's worth reading precisely how they train the volunteers using these cameras (do NOT defy - do not engage - back off behind cover, film horizontally with two hands so it is clear you're holding a camera instead of a gun...and have a US Citizen do all recording, since they have 1st Amendment rights) - all of which responds to those written rules.

'Sympathy for the victims' is difficult if nobody sees them, and the greatest problem of illegal immigration is that they know they need to stay invisible whenever possible, so few ever learn all the good they do (Bourdain knew; many others know; few speak). Unfortunately, millions more have seen Pacino's Scarface and drawn their conclusions than saw 'Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada' - and fewer still knew Cesar Milan's (the 'Dog Whisperer') story. When the day comes that DC seriously contemplates Superman as an 'illegal immigrant,' we may start getting somewhere.

David Brin said...

onward

onward

Paul451 said...

Posted here to avoid messing with the new thread:

Larry,

David: "it will involve some redistribution of ownership, likely vesting all citizens in shares of the means of production. (A much better solution than universal welfare income"
Me: "Nationalising large businesses and thinly distributing owner-shares - vs - taxing them and distributing UBI. What's the difference?"
Larry: "I think he's getting at the difference between ownership and welfare. The difference is not so much in the dollar amounts as in human dignity."

That's what I mean. How is being allocated X-units of micro-shares in the largest companies by the government more "dignified" than being granted a UBI?

Re: Mule Trump and #NoGoodRepublicans,

I disagree that Trump somehow pushed the other Republicans over the edge. Their bastardry was always present, including in the supposed "good" Republicans like McCain. Their response to Trump's behaviour just showed you that the limits you thought they had, that they said they had, didn't exist.

But if you only realised that with their reaction to Trump, you're way too late to the party.

(That said, I wasn't much better. My own "revelation" only goes back to watching McCain in his 2008 campaign.)

((And speaking of #nogoodreplicans, my fear with the Mueller investigation has been the realisation that Mueller is a lifetime Republican. Suppose he's playing a long con...))

Paul451 said...

"#nogoodreplicans"

Heh. I misspelt Replicants.

reason said...

One thing I really don't agree with here:
"As in Roosevelt’s time, it will involve some redistribution of ownership, likely vesting all citizens in shares of the means of production. (A much better solution than universal welfare income: read Vonnegut’s Player Piano, and Farmer’s Riders of the Purple Wage.) "

I really don't see any difference between "universal welfare income" (by which I take you mean universal basic income, although UBI is not welfare) and a share of the means of production. I think UBI should be called "National Dividend" because I think it is a better description, because it removes the living income feel to it which stops it from being phased in and because it identifies the source better - a share of the returns on the resources of the country for committed citizens and permanent residents who have been there long enough to qualify.)

And well citizen's have a vote just as shareholders do (and I think in general permanent residents should always get a vote in local elections).