Monday 24 April, 2023

The Captain

One of the clues on the cryptic crossword we were doing the other day sent me to Wikipedia looking for the name of Captain Smollett’s ship in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. I was struck by N.C.Wyeth’s painting of him raising the flag in defiance of the pirates, which is why it’s my pic of the day.

The ship was, as everybody except yours truly knew, the Hispaniola.

Quote of the Day

“On the whole, I’d rather be in Philadelphia”.

  • W.C. Fields’s preferred epitaph.

(Sadly,possibly apocryphal)

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news Cream – White Room (Royal Albert Hall 2005)


Long Read of the Day


Blistering blog post by Scott Galloway on the catastrophic failure of democratic states to regulate tech companies, especially the social-media operators.

The NHTSA is one of the many boring state and federal agencies critical to a healthy society. Before the Food and Drug Administration, the sale and distribution of food and pharmaceuticals was a free-for-all. The Federal Aviation Administration is the reason your chances of dying in a plane crash are 1 in 3.37 billion. Next time someone tells you they don’t trust government, ask them if they trust cars, food, pain killers, buildings, or airplanes.

The limits on innovation imposed by these agencies — their red tape — are real, and worth it. Millions of us are alive and prospering because we had the foresight and discipline to blunt the sharp end of industrial progress with the guardrails of democratic oversight. Until you open your phone …


The greatest anomaly in the history of U.S. regulation is the place more and more of us spend most of our time: online. A lethal cocktail of complexity, lobbying, cultural worship of tech leaders, and anti-government libertarian screed has rendered tech immune to the basic standards of safety and protection. Lethal is the correct term. Tech comes into the purview of other agencies on occasion. (Though it’s always bitching it’s special and shouldn’t be restrained by the olds at the FTC and DOJ.) And the industry’s blocking efforts have been effective. There is no FDA or SEC for tech, which is America’s largest sector by market capitalization and growing.

He goes on to predict that the advent of Generative AI is now going to slip under democratic guardrails, with consequences possibly even worse than we’ve seen with Meta & Co.

He’s also spot on about the current bleating on the ‘risks’ of the technology.

What won’t work is fake regulation — when the government issues broad, vague statements about what companies should generally do. That’s what Biden did with crypto, and he’s doing it again with AI. Specifically, his “Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights,” which is filled with truisms, platitudes, and no laws. Similarly, the NIST published its “AI Risk Management Framework.” Again, not laws.

Important and worth your time if you’re as concerned about this stuff as I am.

Can China keep generative AI under its control? Well, it contained the internet

Yesterday’s Observer column:

Something happened last week that suggests we are in for another outbreak of hubristic western cant about the supposed naivety of Chinese rulers. On 11 April, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), the country’s internet regulator, proposed new rules for governing generative AI in mainland China. The consultation period for comments on the proposals ends on 10 May…

Read on

Books, etc.

I’ve just bought Timothy Garton Ash’s new book, Homelands: A Personal History of Europe, partly because I know him and admire his work, but also because I’ve just been listening to a remarkable conversation about it between him and Yascha Mounk. I really recommend the podcast, especially if, like me, you’re a devout European.

My commonplace booklet

The joys of autocomplete

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