Wednesday 29 November, 2023

The ‘alignment’ problem

Nice cover of the New Yorker’s special issue on AI.

Quote of the Day

”We are here on Earth to help others. What on earth the others are here for I do not know”

  • W. H. Auden

I wonder who the ’we’ were in this context.

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Bert Jansch | Crimson Moon


Thanks to Andrew Curry for alerting me to it.

Long Read of the Day

 Hitler, the Hotel Guest

Nice counterpoint to the dilemma that faced the ‘altruistic’ Board of OpenAI as they contemplated the question of whether to continue to provide accommodation for their own, er, challenging resident.

In February 1931, two years before he became chancellor, Adolf Hitler checked in to Berlin’s Hotel Kaiserhof and made it his headquarters in the capital. The building soon swarmed with Nazis, who transformed the clientele overnight. Jewish custom evaporated. Business suffered. A year and a half later, with revenues in freefall, the hotel’s parent company needed to act. Its board, majority Jewish, took up the issue at a meeting on September 15, 1932. The question facing them: What are we going to do about Hitler?

And in this case Hitler didn’t stand in for Nazism more generally. No, these Jewish Germans were discussing what to do with the physical, living, embodied Hitler. Should they kick him out and face the consequences? Should they let him stay and face the consequences?

Books, etc.

Daniel Miller is a distinguished anthropologist who has written very insightfully about technology and its place in our lives. His new book, which arrived on my doorstep yesterday afternoon, looks interesting. It’s a kind of ongoing dialogue between, on the one hand, the thinking of philosophers about ‘the good life’ and, on the other, an enthnography of a small Irish town (named ‘Cuan’, but I guess that everyone in Ireland will already have cracked that code) in which people are living ‘the good enough life’. I’m looking forward to chairing an Ireland’s Edge event next weekend in my favourite Irish town — Dingle — and am bringing the book as a way of tuning in.

My commonplace booklet

From Monday’s Washington Post

For years, it seems, we’ve talked about the erosion of the “cordon sanitaire” in Western politics. Far-right parties have been making steady inroads into parliaments across Europe. Some factions descended from explicitly neofascist movements. Others embraced a set of extremist views once considered beyond the pale on a continent still largely defined by a 20th-century liberal-democratic consensus, born out of the traumas of World War II. Even as the far right’s vote shares and ranks of elected lawmakers grew, more mainstream parties vowed to never form alliances with them or enable their entry into government.

But in the 21st century, Europe’s far right is firmly ensconced in the mainstream, and reflects political attitudes no longer harbored simply by a fringe minority. The Dutch parliamentary election last week offered the clearest evidence yet of the new status quo…


Something I noticed, while drinking from the Internet firehose.

User read the manual, still couldn’t make ‘Excel’ work”. Lovely story in The Register by a guy who used to work in IT support (which IMO is one of the most demanding jobs one can do.)


From George Brooke:

Further to your recent piece which mentions scanning of books, I came across a reference to this in George Dyson’s Turing’s Cathedral. At a visit which Dyson made to Google headquarters in California, Dyson asked an engineer whether the scanning of the books was for them to be read by people. The answer came that the scanning was not for people, but for them to be read by an AI. This was in October 2005!

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