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Curing the Population Problem


Exhibit One:  And this is also how AI will Kill us

Not surprisingly it was reported that Boeing didn’t sell any units last month, which was the first month since May 2012 that the company failed to book a commercial 737 sale. This was after the fatal crashes of two of its 737 Max jets. In both cases the pilots were unable to override the plane’s AI, even when following Boeing's proscribed procedures to a T. Of course Boeing didn’t help by making the AI override system a monetized option on the aircraft. Boeing didn’t even bother to tell carriers when they began flying its 737 MAX jets that a safety feature found on earlier models that warns pilots about malfunctioning sensors had been deactivated.

Indeed it took an intervention by President Trump to finally get the plane grounded in the U.S.

So it’s not just the “war” drones that we are developing, “The Rise of the Machines” stuff, which pose an existential threat to humanity, but also just letting any of our machines take control. It may well be that self-driving cars and trucks will be safer than human control, often distracted humans in our new age, but how do you program in a response to say the Trolley Problem or other “unsolvable” situations. For us these “problems” are part of the randomness of life, but for a programmer they will become part of the driving system, and their choices will become our choices. The Tech Company may well choose not to program for the unsolvable, but the AI will have no choice but to do something, and that will then be left to chaos theory, which may be the best one can expect. So to avoid the Dog in the road the AI kills a bus load of Nuns*? To quote Shakespeare this “must give us pause…”

*Note: Killing a bus load of Nuns is the Museum’s default measurement for a tragic occurrence.

And driving this:  David Dayen at The New Republic writes—The Final Battle in Big Tech’s War to Dominate Your World. Facebook, Amazon, Apple, and Google are fighting for unbroken control of American life:

All of these companies want to be WeChat—a Chinese app that combines messaging, video calls, social networking, games, shopping, and mobile payments—but for America, if not the world. It’s genuinely hard to pay with paper money in China, given the ubiquity of WeChat. The power of leveraging payment, commerce, communications, and entertainment makes Chinese users reliant on WeChat on a minute-by-minute basis.

And that’s what Big Tech’s war of all against all is about. Apple, Amazon, Google, and Facebook want to make it unable for users to live without them. They will fight to assemble the biggest network with the most users, and whoever reaches that pinnacle, their device or platform will become a necessary appendage for tens of millions of Americans—or maybe all of them.

You could see this devolving into a muddled stalemate, with each company holding a sliver of users. That wouldn’t necessarily be great, either, as users get locked into their own digital buddy and its integrated services, unable to fathom extricating themselves from the tangle. In the early days of the Internet, we heard about walled gardens; this would be a walled life.

What is sacrificed for the convenience of an always-on digital life partner? Choice, for one thing: Customers will be subject to the whims of a lone digital gatekeeper. 

The Museum recommends reading the whole article.

A corollary from Jack Nicas at The New York Times

In the last year, Apple has “removed or restricted” 11 of the 17 most popular apps for controlling screen time and the content children can access on devices. These moves came after Apple introduced its own screen-time tracker. “They are systematically killing the industry,” said the chief executive of one such app company.

Cathy O’Neil at Bloomberg chimes in: Yes, Government Should Regulate Automated Decision-Making. Somebody has to reassert human control over algorithmic people-management. Kudos to Congressional Democrats for making the effort.:

A backlash against big tech has sent lawmakers all over the world scrambling for ways to restrain the influence of computers over daily life. Now, Congressional Democrats are offering up an Algorithmic Accountability Act of 2019, an expansive and ambitious new take on how to regulate automated decision-making. Whether or not it becomes law, it’s a necessary effort to reassert human control as opaque algorithms take over bureaucratic processes.

Algorithms are being used everywhere: in credit decisions, mortgages insurance rates, who gets a job, which kids get into college, and how long criminal defendants go to prison to name a few proliferating examples. Messy, complicated human decisions are being made, typically without an explanation or a chance to appeal, by artificial intelligence systems. They provide efficiency, profitability, and, often, a sense of scientific precision and authority.

The problem is that this authority has been bestowed too hastily. Algorithms are increasingly found to be making mistakes. Whether it’s a sexist hiring algorithm developed by Amazon, conspiracy theories promoted by the Google search engine or an IBM facial-recognition program that didn’t work nearly as well on black women as on white men, we’ve seen that large companies that pride themselves on their technical prowess are having trouble navigating this terrain.

And if that’s what we know about, imagine what we don’t.

For more on this topic here is a link to Hannah Fry talking at the Royal Institute in London.

Exhibit Two:  A related note on our other existential threat
The $14 billion network of levees and floodwalls that was built to protect greater New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina was to be a seemingly invincible bulwark against flooding. But now, 11 months after the Army Corps of Engineers completed one of the largest public works projects in world history, the agency says the system will stop providing adequate protection in as little as four years because of rising sea levels and shrinking levees.
As usual with humans we will spend far more resources trying to cope with a problem than we will ever invest in trying to solve, or at least mitigate it.
María José Viñas, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center:
Rising temperatures in the Arctic over the past decades have also thinned the sea ice pack. Multiyear ice, the older and thicker ice that acted like a bastion against melting for the rest of the sea ice cover, has mostly disappeared. A 2018 study led by Ron Kwok, a sea ice researcher with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, found that 70 percent of the ice pack now consists of seasonal ice—sea ice that grows rapidly in the winter only to melt during the next summer.

"The large changes in ice coverage associated with the loss of the multiyear ice pack have already occurred," Kwok said. "The seasonal ice now represents a larger fraction of the Arctic sea ice cover. Because this young ice is thinner and grows faster in the winter, it is more responsive to weather and makes the sea ice cover respond differently than before. It's not that we won't see new wintertime or summertime record lows in the next years—it's just that the variability is going to be higher."

Melting sea ice does not contribute to rising sea levels, but melting Ice Packs on land do. The Arctic and Antarctic are warming faster than the global upward trend. Sea Ice is just a canary in the mine for our land-based ice.

At the Exit

Derek Cheng at the New Zealand Herald:
In the final reading of a bipartisan bill reforming the nation’s gun laws in the wake of the March 15 mass murder of 50 people at two mosques in Christchurch, the largest city on New Zealand’s South Island, the vote was 119-1, with the single opposition vote coming from the libertarian ACT Party's sole MP, David Seymour. He had complained about the speed with which the bill was being pushed, but last week while he was speaking to the press about his complaint, he missed a parliamentary vote designed to slow down the speed of approval, which failed. In addition to the ban, the bill, which will come into force Friday, includes a buy-back provision that allows anyone to turn in their prohibited firearm by September 30 in exchange for payment based on the weapon’s condition and age. So far, more than 300 such weapons have been turned in. Anyone who fails to meet the deadline faces up to five years in prison. A few exemptions are included in the bill for heirloom weapons and professional pest control. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who has received wide praise inside and outside the nation for her response to the shootings, spoke for the ban in parliament: "We are ultimately here because 50 people died and they do not have a voice. [...] We, in this house, are their voice and today we have used that voice wisely." 



Uncle Willie loves to have feedback from both readers who appreciate his point of view as well as from missguided souls who disagree.