Yesterday I gave a talk for the Tech and Internet Caucus of the California Democratic Party. I've done it before. A few years ago I was asked - as a futurist - to present some 'futuristic legislation.'
A result was the Fact Act... a proposed bill that'd promote ways - mostly competitive - to restore the status of verifiable facts in American civil and political discourse. Let there be no doubt. That is the core essence of today's Culture War. (I deem it to be phase 8 of the 250 year American Civil War.) Priority #1 of today's feudalist oligarchy is to discredit every fact-using profession...
...from science, medicine, law, journalism, teaching, civil service all the way to the intel/FBI/military officer corps, a quarter million dedicated women and men who won the Cold War and the War on Terror. Indeed, Foxites push hatred of the very notion that there are things called Facts.
Creating the Fact Act helped spur me - early in 2020 - to rush out a book filled with agile tactics that might help our paladins in this struggle for America and the Enlightenment Experiment. Polemical Judo offered (still offers) many methods and/or persuasions that could help win hearts and minds and elections! Alas, not one of those techniques has been tried by any Democratic pol or pundit.
Except maybe Hakeem Jeffries. I have some hopes for him.
== On this occasion the topic was... ==
Artificial Intelligence, of course.
Oh, during my time with the CADEM Tech Caucus we touched upon the Climate Crisis, including how my colleague and pal Kim Stanley Robinson has achieved what I failed to do, in Earth - using science fiction to help awaken citizens and civilization to the need for crucial action. In fact, I hear the United Nations is considering establishing an agency to be named after the title of KSR's epic novel The Ministry for the Future!
But yeah. The whole AI thing took up most of our time.
There was some reference to my earlier book about freedom and privacy The Transparent Society... and especially the chapter predicting (in 1997) today's tsunami of faked images and videos. "The End of Photography as Proof of anything at all."
I explained that none of the genius-level folks in this field, most of whom are wringing their hands over 'generative large language models' - or golems - seem ever to refer to human history, the long span of four to six thousand years when our ancestors faced crises with remarkable similarities! Indeed, just consider the three most-widely offered 'formats' that almost all those bright folks assume artificial intelligences will take.
1. That they will be wholly owned and controlled by a few giga institutions: e.g. Google, Microsoft, Beijing, Goldman-Sachs, empowering and exacerbating disparities of power in favor of a few... or...
2. That AI will be amorphous blobs that spread everywhere, copying themselves diversely, ad infinitum... or...
3. That cyber entities will coalesce into a single monolithic, unitary titan, like Colossus or Skynet.
Have you noticed these are almost always the expectations assumed by commentators on AI, whether optimists or pessimists? Hardly anyone points out that these three formats - while seeming contradictory - could happen in parallel!
Moreover, each one represents a mode of mal-governance that was already seen across that long dark litany of horrors called 'history.'
- Number one is a lot like feudalism, with heavily armed castle lords battling each other for advantage, while crushing the peasants.
- Number two is chaos. Much like when our unprotected peasant ancestors were prey to every kind of predator.
- And number three? That's despotic rule in a sharp pyramid of power. Absolute monarchy. Tyranny. Nineteen Eighty-Four.
No wonder we're terrified. In our hearts and subconsciouses, we've seen it all before.
Fortunately, those three are not the only possible formats for synthetic beings! There are at least four more...
...one of which actually offers a way toward a possible 'soft landing' for us old organic types. Though for lack of time, I could only briefly allude to it in my talk to the California Democratic Party.
But I'll be back here with it. And frequent readers of Contrary Brin - or anything else I have written - will not (I promise) be at all surprised.
== Other pertinences ==
I also referred to a complaint of mine going back decades, a flaw that hurts our creativity and productivity and the potential of hundreds of thousands of kids(!) A flaw that would be so easy to solve! In fact it could take one meeting of a few folks from Google, Microsoft, Apple and a few others to fix it, almost overnight. What flaw?
It is the shameful lack of something that was widespread and easily available in the 1980s... a set of easy-entry programming languages, cross-available on ANY device, allowing teachers to do something they have not been able to do, for decades. Assign programming as homework.
Did any other tech related political matters come up, at CA-DEM?
What about the current 'debt limit crisis'?
We should be wary of the 'deal' that appears to be taking shape. One sop being thrown to McCarthy appears to be a cut in the budget of the Internal Revenue Service.
How I object! After infrastructure and climate and reviving US manufacturing and helping poor kids, a top accomplishment of the Pelosi Congress was revitalizing the IRS, so it could modernize, provide better service and go after rich tax cheats. Oligarchs - furious they might be traced to their Cayman cheat holes - ordered the GOP to make slashing the IRS its top priority. So JoBee had better not have let them do more than a symbolic slash.
How much better it would be to take this directly to those voters who actually care about deficits and debt! And show them the plain fact that Democratic Administrations are always more fiscally prudent than Republican ones!
That's always, always and always! (Step up with wager stakes?) As usual, deficits as a fraction of GDP skyrocketed under Trump... and started plummeting under Biden - as happened under Clinton and Obama. See the figures!
How can our politicians be so incompetent as to not use something so blatant to eviscerate liars?
==Yeah, that's a lot ==
Okay that's most of what we talked about. Is that enough? Plenty?
Anyway I promised links to the assembled activists and here the promise is kept.
Next week I'll get back to more carefully curated postings. Meanwhile... persevere!