Monday, November 10, 2014

Ask not for whom the Wall falls...

The natives are restless:
Sometimes simple and bold ideas help us see more clearly a complex reality that requires nuanced approaches. I have an "impossibility theorem" for the global economy that is like that. It says that democracy, national sovereignty and global economic integration are mutually incompatible: we can combine any two of the three, but never have all three simultaneously and in full. Dani Rodrik

In this sense, the crisis of capitalism has turned into a crisis of democracy. Many feel that their countries are no longer being governed by parliaments and legislatures, but by bank lobbyists, which apply the logic of suicide bombers to secure their privileges: Either they are rescued or they drag the entire sector to its death. Der Spiegel

Despite philosophers of “universal harmonies” such as Francis Fukuyama, Timothy Garton Ash, Vaclav Havel, Bernard Henry Lévy and scores of international “economic advisors” to Boris Yeltsin, who all fantasized about democracy and prosperity, neither really arrived for most people in eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. Branko Milanovic - The Globalist
We are now in the midst of commemorating the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall, which was followed in short order by the collapse of the Soviet Union and its entire international system.

I say "commemorate", but when it comes to the collapse of the wall and enormous Soviet system, the word most people use is "celebrate". But here I would interject an ancient Spanish folk proverb, which goes, "when you see your neighbor's beard on fire, put your beard to soak"; or the not so ancient but equally valid American saying, "what goes around, comes around".

In my opinion the most unbiased, irrefutable, undeniable take-away from the collapse of the USSR and its entire ideological superstructure is that huge, powerful, complex and historically successful systems, which have embodied the hopes and dreams of several generations of people all around the world, can just up and die with little or no warning... Soon to be playing in theaters near you.

Why is it so difficult to realize anything so perfectly obvious?

It is very difficult to see this glaring reality because of an enormous think tank and media industry with scores of attending lobbies that was built up during the Cold War, (one which still flourishes), to "win friends and influence people" for our system. This was in most every way a mirror of the Soviet "propaganda" machine.

In the English language the word, "propaganda" fell out of favor during World War One and was replaced by Freud's nephew Edward Bernays with more euphonious terms such as "public relations" and "marketing". 

If we observe that our system has been sold to the world, and more importantly even to ourselves, in exactly the same way as a soft drink, lets look at Coke's slogans over the years. What if instead of: "the pause that refreshes", "things go better with Coke" or, "it's the real thing", they had said the plain truth?

Imagine instead, "Coke tastes really good, it's fantastic with rum in fact, but if you drink enough of it to keep our shareholders happy you will surely become grotesquely obese and you will probably develop diabetes and end up having your legs amputated"... send that up the flag pole and see who salutes. 

With Coca Cola's "propaganda" as your model, compare, "With Liberty and Justice for all" or "All men are created equal" or how about "government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth", with the Supreme Court decisions, "Buckley v. Valeo" and "Citizens United v. the Federal Electoral Commission" which have turned the United States into the political equivalent of a fat, diabetic, legless, wreck... As a master analyst writes:
The dominating significance of the mid-term American legislative elections just finished has been the occasion’s dramatic confirmation of the corruption of the American electoral system. This has two elements, the first being its money corruption, unprecedented in American history, and without parallel in the history of major modern western democracies. How can Americans get out of this terrible situation, which threatens to become the permanent condition of American electoral politics? The second significance of this election has been the debasement of debate to a level of vulgarity, misinformation and ignorance that while not unprecedented in American political history, certainly attained new depths and extent.(...) The result of these developments during the past forty years has been the transformation of the United States into a plutocracy, which is to say a state governed by its wealthiest class. No one in America today doubts it. William Pfaff
Where is all this heading? Once upon a time they asked Mao's old sidekick, Zhou Enlai what he thought about the French Revolution of 1789, "It's too early to tell", he replied.

Most people thought Zhou was joking, but there was much, rather Taoist, wisdom in his words. Both the Russian revolution and America's are daughters of the French enlightenment that gave birth to the French revolution; all three propose a "universal" system of values by which all humanity is to achieve happiness. The French version led to Napoleon and Waterloo. This past weekend we celebrated the end of Russia's attempt at making everyone, everywhere, happy.

25 years ago, when the wall went down it looked like the American dream of turning the world into a universal sea of American values was going to come true: World Bank, IMF, WTO, NAFTA, enlarging NATO... An American directed "New World Order had dawned... That sounds a bit stale by now doesn't it? The Chinese sure aren't buying, neither is Russia... I wouldn't count on India either... not to mention Latin America.

Reading the quote from William Pfaff above it would seem that the USA, like the USSR before it, would do well to clean up its own mess at home instead of trying to arrange the world's affairs. DS

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Artificial Intelligence: our "next big idea" for destroying humanity


“I think we should be very careful about artificial intelligence. If I had to guess at what our biggest existential threat is, it’s probably that. So we need to be very careful,” said Musk. “I’m increasingly inclined to think that there should be some regulatory oversight, maybe at the national and international level, just to make sure that we don’t do something very foolish.”(...) He recently described his investments in AI research as “keeping an eye on what’s going on”, rather than viable return on capital. “With artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon. In all those stories where there’s the guy with the pentagram and the holy water, it’s like – yeah, he’s sure he can control the demon. Doesn’t work out,” said Musk. - Elon Musk - The Guardian
Sometimes I wonder if artificial intelligence doesn't already exist and has quietly taken over the world without our noticing it.
Even the word "artificial" is misleading, because the question is not really about a superior intelligence residing in a devise or machine. The question is whether this "thing" has become a "being", with a sense of its separate identity, an ego, an instinct for self-preservation.

This sense of self-preservation doesn't require great intelligence, as anyone can testify who has turned on the kitchen light in the middle of the night and watched the cockroaches run for their lives or has been haunted by the pitiful screams of terror of a pig about to be slaughtered.

In seems obvious to me that the only threat to the survival of an "inhuman" intelligence would be the same one that threatens all other life forms on our planet... you guessed it, us, the humans.

However it is safe to assume that the greater the intelligence, the more nuanced would be the analysis of potential threats and more sophisticated the "flee or fight" reaction to those perceived threats.

Probably such a being (anything that is conscious of being a being is a "being) would begin by examining its surroundings, thus it would soon be aware of its relationship to humanity and the threats and opportunities that relationship offered...

Not being organic, I can't see why that such a being would have any reason to feel anything approaching empathy with humans or any other organic creature... It might be easier to imagine that such an inorganic being would sympathize more with a discarded toaster than it would with, say, a handicapped, human child.

It is logical to suppose that this superior Artificial Intelligence would evaluate humanity in the same way that humanity has always evaluated other species we have encountered: are we dangerous? Are we useful? Are we good to eat? Can we be domesticated? Enslaved? Exterminated? If so, how? ... Could we be made into pets?

Slipping for a moment into paranoia, imagine that the artificial being already exists, perhaps even unbeknownst to its creators... has the AI found us good to eat? If so how does such a being feed? How would it "eat" us? Are we being enslaved, domesticated? Are we being culled?

What got me thinking in this line was sitting in a sidewalk cafe watching a crowded street filled with people bumping into each other while they stared fixedly at their cellphone screens, tapping them rapidly, their ears plugged with earphones, totally oblivious to the reality (cars, bicycles, sharp objects, other humans) around them. DS