Wednesday 28 June, 2023

A volcanic legacy

This castle on a volcanic plug is one of the most striking sights on our long drive down to the South of France. It’s a few km before Puy-en-Velay, at the heart of what was once a region of active volcanoes.

Citation du jour

Seen on the wall of a Provencal cafe:

”On m’a demandé ma situation amoureuse, célibataine ou marié? Je respondu Bénévole!”

Rough translation:

”I was asked about my relationship status, single or married? I answered Volunteer!”

My hunch. ‘Volunteer’ should be ‘Make me an offer’!

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Edith Piaf | Non, Je ne regrette rien


Long Read of the Day

Dr Pangloss’s view of ‘AI’

Marc Andreessen’s latest paean to ‘progress’, i.e. “Why AI Will Save The World”.

The era of Artificial Intelligence is here, and boy are people freaking out.

Fortunately, I am here to bring the good news: AI will not destroy the world, and in fact may save it.

In our new era of ‘AI’, it seems,

Every child will have an AI tutor that is infinitely patient, infinitely compassionate, infinitely knowledgeable, infinitely helpful. The AI tutor will be by each child’s side every step of their development, helping them maximize their potential with the machine version of infinite love.

Every person will have an AI assistant/coach/mentor/trainer/advisor/therapist that is infinitely patient, infinitely compassionate, infinitely knowledgeable, and infinitely helpful. The AI assistant will be present through all of life’s opportunities and challenges, maximizing every person’s outcomes.

Every scientist will have an AI assistant/collaborator/partner that will greatly expand their scope of scientific research and achievement. Every artist, every engineer, every businessperson, every doctor, every caregiver will have the same in their worlds.

Etc., etc.

Andreessen is smart, interesting and very, very rich. He’s also a romantic about technology, which is ok. So am I. But he seems totally oblivious to the distributional aspects of tech progress. In that sense he’s clearly unfamiliar with the history of ‘progress’ as chronicled by, say, Acemoglu and Simon.

Still, his paean makes an interesting read.

But you have to take him with (a) a barrowload of salt, and (b) remembering that his venture capital firm, Andreessen-Horowitz (aka a16z) has a lot of skin in the game. They’ve been investing in crypto for years, for example, which is why their “2023 State of Crypto” report is, as Molly White’s elaborate demolition of it, shows, flaky.

Actually, you can see that just by reading the disclaimer printed in very small type. Here’s how it opens:

”Certain information contained in here has been obtained from third-party sources, including from portfolio companies of funds managed by a16z. While taken from sources believed to be reliable, a16z has not independently verified such information and makes no representation of the enduring accuracy of the information or its appropriateness for a given situation.”

Footnote: Dr Pangloss was the relentlessly optimistic tutor of Candide, the protagonist in Voltaire’s eponymous novel. Some people think he was a caricature of Leibniz. Andreessen is definitely clever (he was, after all, the kid who — with Eric Bina — in 1993 created Mosaic, the first modern web browser, and in that sense kicked off the first Internet boom.) But he’s no Leibniz.

My commonplace booklet

 Decades-long bet on consciousness ends — and it’s philosopher 1, neuroscientist 0.

The neuroscientist Christof Koch bet philosopher David Chalmers 25 years ago that researchers would learn how the brain achieves consciousness by now. Chalmers won the case of wine. Link


Some things I noticed, when drinking from the Internet firehose, which might be of interest.

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