Samuel Johnson on the Daily Mail

Seeing the Daily Mail applaud the Prime Minister’s rejection of Leveson’s prescription (“Cameron leads the fight for liberty”) reminds me of Sam Johnson’s famous question (in Taxation No Tyranny): “How is it”, he asked, “that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?”

Leveson report: the nub of it

Andrew Rawnsley nails it.

Imagine we were talking about a 16-month, £5m, government-commissioned inquiry into abuses perpetrated by doctors or lawyers or members of the armed forces. Imagine that this inquiry had catalogued repeated illegality, systematic breaches of the profession’s codes, the corruption of public officials, the compromising of political integrity and outrageous misconduct that had maimed innocent lives. Imagine that the report had arrived at the verdict that, while this profession mostly “serves the country well”, significant elements of it were “exercising unaccountable power”.

Imagine the prime minister who had set up that inquiry then responded that it was all very interesting, with much in it to commend, but he was going to park this report on the same dusty shelf that already groans with seven previous inquiries and allow this disgraced bunch one more chance to regulate themselves. We know what would be happening now. The newspapers would be monstering the prime minister as the most feeble creature ever to darken the door of Number 10. But since this is about the newspapers themselves, David Cameron has received some of the most adulatory headlines of his seven years as Tory leader.

Thinking about the unthinkable

This morning’s Observer column.

Then Google launched its autonomous vehicle (aka self-driving car) project. By loading a perfectly ordinary Toyota Prius with $250,000-worth of sensors and computing equipment, the company created a vehicle that can safely navigate even the more congested road conditions. So far, these cars have logged something like half-a-million accident-free miles, which implies that robotic cars are actually far safer than ones driven by humans.

For me, the implication of the Google car is not necessarily that Kurzweil’s “singularity” is near, but that our assumptions about the potential of computers – and, therefore, artificial intelligence – urgently need revising. We need to think seriously about this stuff, along the lines demonstrated by the philosopher David Chalmers in a terrific paper, or by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee in their book, Race Against the Machine.