A (rare) defence of David Cameron

From Tyler Cowen of all people:

I remain a supporter of Remain, for reasons I will not recap here, but I am also a realist and I recognize that a commitment to the European Union requires a substantial commitment from the population, more than a mere fifty percent and in the United Kingdom we do not see that close to that. You probably know that the Tories seem to have won a smashing victory in today’s election, and by campaigning on Brexit as their main issue. And you can’t just blame Corbyn — his ascendancy and leadership were endogenous to the broader process, and getting rid of him to reverse Brexit it turned out was not the priority.

So do you know who looks much better in retrospect? Yes, David Cameron. After the initial referendum I heard from the usual elites the notion that Cameron committed some kind of inexplicable, aberrant error by allowing the referendum in the first place. That notion is much harder to entertain after today. Even if you are pro-Remain, we should now see that either the referendum, or something like it, was indeed a necessary step in British politics. Cameron himself saw this, and thought that a later referendum, run by an EU-hostile Tory government, could in fact go much worse than what he chanced. So it seems with hindsight that Cameron was pretty prescient, even if he did not get what he wanted.

The only flaw in that argument is its assumption that Cameron was thinking of the population as a whole, rather than of the Europhobes in his own party.

Biased machines may be easier to fix than biased humans

This morning’s Observer column:

One of the things that really annoys AI researchers is how supposedly “intelligent” machines are judged by much higher standards than are humans. Take self-driving cars, they say. So far they’ve driven millions of miles with very few accidents, a tiny number of them fatal. Yet whenever an autonomous vehicle kills someone there’s a huge hoo-ha, while every year in the US nearly 40,000 people die in crashes involving conventional vehicles.

Likewise, the AI evangelists complain, everybody and his dog (this columnist included) is up in arms about algorithmic bias: the way in which automated decision-making systems embody the racial, gender and other prejudices implicit in the data sets on which they were trained. And yet society is apparently content to endure the astonishing irrationality and capriciousness of much human decision-making.

If you are a prisoner applying for parole in some jurisdictions, for example, you had better hope that the (human) judge has just eaten when your case comes up…

Read on