Monday 29 May, 2023

Lilies: helicopter view

A gift from a dinner guest the other day.

Quote of the Day

“The Internet is less a ‘marketplace of ideas (as conservatives and libertarians would have it) and more a ‘marketplace of passions’.”

  • Will Davies, writing on fandom in the London Review of Books.

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Pinetop Perkins | Pinetop’s Blues


Long Read of the Day

Doug Rushkoff Is Ready to Renounce the Digital Revolution

Interesting profile in Wired.

“I was pretty freaking excited in the ’90s about the possibilities for a new kind of peer-to-peer economy. What we would build that would be like a TOR network of economics, the great Napsterization of economics in a digital environment,” he tells his students. But more recently, he continues, he’s turned his attention to something else that this new digital economy has created: “It made a bunch of billionaires and a whole lot of really poor, unhappy people.”

This kind of rhetoric is part of a recent, decisive shift in direction for Rushkoff. For the past 30 years, across more than a dozen nonfiction books, innumerable articles, and various media projects about the state of society in the internet age, Rushkoff had always walked a tightrope between optimism and skepticism. He was one of the original enthusiasts of technology’s prosocial potential, charting a path through the digital landscape for those who shared his renegade, anti-government spirit. As Silicon Valley shed its cyberpunk soul and devolved into an incubator of corporate greed, he continued to advocate for his values from within. Until now. Last fall, with the publication of his latest book, Survival of the Richest: Escape Fantasies of the Tech Billionaires, Rushkoff all but officially renounced his membership in the guild of spokespeople for the digital revolution. So what happened?

Like me, he’s a recovering Utopian.

Worth reading.

AI will be everywhere, but its rise will be mundane not apocalyptic

My column in yesterday’s Observer:

In March, OpenAI decided that it needn’t just be a service provider – it could also be a platform on which other companies could build businesses. So it published a set of application programming interfaces (API) that would allow developers to add a version of ChatGPT to their services (for a fee, of course) without having to sink shedloads of money into building and training their own language models. This was the step that more or less guaranteed that ChatGPT would, in due course, be everywhere.

A good analogy is what happened with Google Maps…

Read on.

How to regulate crypto: treat it like the gambling that it is

From Molly White (Whom God Preserve):

The UK Parliament’s Treasury Committee has released a report suggesting that the cryptocurrency industry should be regulated like gambling, rather than as a financial service:

  1. Regardless of the regulatory regime, their price volatility and absence of intrinsic value means that unbacked cryptoassets will inevitably pose significant risks to consumers. Furthermore, consumer speculation in unbacked cryptoassets more closely resembles gambling than it does a financial service. We are concerned that regulating retail trading and investment activity in unbacked cryptoassets as a financial service will create a ‘halo’ effect that leads consumers to believe that this activity is safer than it is, or protected when it is not.

  2. We strongly recommend that the Government regulates retail trading and investment activity in unbacked cryptoassets as gambling rather than as a financial service, consistent with its stated principle of ‘same risk, same regulatory outcome’.

That’s more like it.

The tech industry isn’t interested in history…

… because it thinks there’s nothing to be learned from it.

Revealing passage From The Verge’s report of OpenAI CEO Sam Altman’s gig at UCL the other day.

However, he said, he was hopeful about the future. Extremely hopeful. Altman says he believes even current AI tools will reduce inequality in the world and that there will be “way more jobs on the other side of this technological revolution.”

“This technology will lift all of the world up.”

“My basic model of the world is that the cost of intelligence and the cost of energy are the two limited inputs, sort of the two limiting reagents of the world. And if you can make those dramatically cheaper, dramatically more accessible, that does more to help poor people than rich people, frankly,” he said. “This technology will lift all of the world up.”

Altman clearly needs to read Power and Progress which chronicles a thousand years of technological development during which the most of the rewards went to the rich and powerful who owned the technology. Except for a few exceptional periods, the rising tide mostly floated yachts.

My commonplace booklet

 If you must go to court, get a proper lawyer.

A cautionary tale from the New York Times.

A man named Roberto Mata sued the airline Avianca, saying he was injured when a metal serving cart struck his knee during a flight to Kennedy International Airport in New York.

When Avianca asked a Manhattan federal judge to toss out the case, Mr. Mata’s lawyers vehemently objected, submitting a 10-page brief that cited more than half a dozen relevant court decisions. There was Martinez v. Delta Air Lines, Zicherman v. Korean Air Lines and, of course, Varghese v. China Southern Airlines, with its learned discussion of federal law and “the tolling effect of the automatic stay on a statute of limitations.”

There was just one hitch: No one — not the airline’s lawyers, not even the judge himself — could find the decisions or the quotations cited and summarized in the brief.

That was because ChatGPT had invented everything…

It’s a hoot. Or, more pedantically perhaps, an hoot.


Re Kissinger at 100…

Holger Huber writes:

The quote from Mother Jones is confusing. It appears to say that Operation Breakfast (more precisely Operation Menu) caused between 150000 to 500000 casualties. Wikipedia states the following:

There are no confirmed estimates of Cambodians killed, wounded, or rendered homeless by Operation Menu. The Department of Defense estimated that the six areas bombed in Operation Menu (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Snack, Dessert, and Supper) had a non-combatant population of 4,247. DOD planners stated that the effect of attacks could tend to increase casualties, as could the probable lack of protective shelters around Cambodian homes”.

MJ might have been mixing up Operation Menu with Operation Freedom Deal, about which Wikipedia has to say the following: The number of deaths caused by U.S. bombing has been disputed and is difficult to disentangle from the broader Cambodian Civil War. Estimates as wide-ranging as 30,000 to 600,000 have been cited. Sihanouk used a figure of 600,000 civil war deaths, while Elizabeth Becker reported over one million civil war deaths, military and civilian included, although other researchers could not corroborate such high estimates. Marek Sliwinski notes that many estimates of the dead are open to question and may have been used for propaganda, suggesting that the true number lies between 240,000 and 310,000.

Judith Banister and E. Paige Johnson described 275,000 war deaths as “the highest mortality that we can justify”. Patrick Heuveline states that “Subsequent reevaluations of the demographic data situated the death toll for the [civil war] in the order of 300,000 or less”. Of these civil war deaths, Sliwinski estimates that approximately 17.1% can be attributed to U.S. bombing, noting that this is far behind the leading causes of death, as the U.S. bombing was concentrated in under-populated border areas. Ben Kiernan attributes 50,000 to 150,000 deaths to the U.S. bombing. According to Larry Clinton Thompson, 150,000 seems to be the best estimate.

Whether that changes anything in one’s judgement of Henry Kissinger is a different matter, but I have been alway intrigued that Kissinger seems to be made often solely responsible for the US actions abroad, as if he was acting behind Nixon’s back.

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