CULTURAL EVOLUTION

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

To You We Shall Return

By: Joseph M. Marshall III

                                             Narrated by : Joseph M. Marshall III

Joseph M. Marshall III (Author)

Joseph M. Marshall is a native American Indian of the Lakota tribe.  He argues that humanity must balance economic growth with nature to preserve cultural, particularly American Indian, identity.  The foundation of the argument is his life in a Lakota family and a felt loss of cultural identity.  His recollection is that his family’s life ambition is balancing the Lakota way of life with the natural world. 

Marshall creates an argument based on a false dichotomy. 

The world has never been a static place.  One cannot dispute balancing change with nature is critical to survival of humans on earth.  However cultural evolution is an integral part of that balance.

Marshall notes his family modified their culture to adjust from hunter/gatherer life to a farming life. 

He decries the destruction of his native culture by non-native explorers who, without question, deceived, evicted, and murdered Indians for what foreign settlers believed was a new frontier to conquer and exploit.  

But that is not the theme of Marshall’s book.  His belief is that ethnic cultures should be retained by emphasizing balance of nature to maintain the environment in a fragile world.

What is disturbing about the emphasis on balance of nature is the discounting of science that saved many homos sapiens from disease, starvation, and death.

With discovery of the causes of disease, ways for cure, and methods for increasing food production, people’s lives and standards of living were improved. 

Marshall recalls an idyllic history of his Lakota family that lived in the wilderness by adjusting their lives to the exigencies of nature.  On a larger scale of life, rebalancing lives of humans with earth’s environment is a never-ending process.  New scientific, political, and social discoveries require cultural adaptation.

Cultural evolution is a consequence of human nature and manufactured law.  Human nature is formed at birth and evolves based on life experience that modifies the psychology of being, human desires, and behavioral traits.  Manufactured law is a social construct based on either authoritarian, socialist, or democratic political ideals and institutions. 

Contrary to Marshall’s explanation of the ideal of a culture that is disappearing, some like Norman Borlaug, imply the survival of humanity is dependent on the interplay between human nature, science, and manufactured law.  (Borlaug was an agronomist who found a hybridized wheat seed that saved millions from starvation.) 

Knowledge gained through science offers the opportunity to rebalance the relationship between humanity and nature. 

Cultural evolution is a part of that rebalancing.  Cultures collide and reform.  Cultures are compelled to adapt.  Over the life of the universe, one presumes earthlings will have one culture, and other worlds will have their own distinctive cultures.

This is not to minimize the monumental loss of identity to the Lakota or any other culture. 

The history of indigenous Indian cultural decimation in America is heart breaking in the same way that all human beings have not been treated as equals. 

Marshall’s wish for cultural permanence is an unreasonable expectation.  Human nature is a brutal and often unfair quality of being human.  Adaptation by cultures follows Darwin’s path of evolution.  The animal kingdom adapts to its changing environment, or its species dies.

SCIENTISTS VIEW OF AI

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Making Sense: Conversations on Consciousness, Morality, and the Future of Humanity

By: Sam Harris

                                                                  Narrated by : Sam Harris,  David Chalmers, David Deutsch, Anil Seth, Thomas Metzinger, Timothy Snyder, Glenn C. Loury, Robert Sapolsky, Daniel Kahneman, Nick Bostrom, David Krakauer, Max Tegmark.

Sam Harris (American author, philosopher, neuroscientist, and podcast host.)

This audio presentation is a series of podcast interviews by Sam Harris of some remarkable students of humanity.  They discuss the meaning of morality, consciousness, and the future.  Listeners will come away with a degree of wonder, appreciation, and hopefully understanding of what these men (sadly no women) say about human intelligence, A.I., and the future.

Three explained points of view can be taken to work tomorrow morning–1) Human intelligence is not adequately represented by I.Q. tests.  2) Interviews of prospective candidates for a job will not tell an employer how well a prospective candidate will do his/her job.  3) Machines can be programed to be more efficient and less error prone than humans in the production of goods and services.

Less immediate but more consequential points of view are–A) The advance of artificial intelligence has potential for both good and evil, a secular rather than religious morality to these scientists. B) Leadership in A.I. is critical to the future of humanity.  C) The future of work is indeterminate but is based on the physics of existence. 

1) Intelligence comes from a brain gathering information and experience and using that gathering to provide order to thought nd action.  An I.Q. number is a measurement with limited insight to one’s ordered thoughts and actions.

2) Job applicant interviews tells little about a candidate’s ability to think and act based on the needs of a job.  Experience in similar jobs is of some value but interviews only reinforce an interviewer’s prejudices and biases.

3) Machines can be programed to be more efficient and less error prone than humans in the production of goods and services.

  • A) Intelligence comes from sentient life gathering information and experience to inform thought and action. A.I. designed to only act without thought is not intelligent.  It is simply software for a machine designed to perform a task, like vacuuming the floor, turning a lathe, or assembling an automobile.  Intelligence in those performances only come from human supervisors.  The only good or evil in that circumstance is from the human supervisor.  

The advance of artificial intelligence has potential for both good and evil. 

In contrast, when a machine is programmed to gather all information available in its environment and acts in accordance with that environment, it begins to reach beyond the intelligence of human control.  A machine acquires some level of control over its own thought and action.  The consequence can be death in the case of a car driven by A.I.  On the other hand, accidents also occur with human drivers.  What is the difference? 

Self Driving Tesla car wreck causing a deadly crash.

The difference is that true A.I. will learn from past incidents and self-correct.  This is a first step to creation of thought and action for intelligent machines.  In the short term, in the case of automobiles, it benefits society by having fewer accidents.  In the long term, software programing that gathers information and acts, independent of humans, may give rise to a conscious “self” in machines that could replicate themselves to the point of a kind of evolution that mirrors human nature’s gene replication.  Neither the private nor public sector is adequately investing in safety when new A.I. products are created. 

Expressed concern in these interviews is that little is being spent by either the private or public sector to design safety into software development.  The evidence of that failure is criminal hacking. Not enough investment is made to secure private information when proprietary information or software is stolen and/or modified by criminals.

There is a brief allusion to the idea of melding man and machine but no discussion of the ramification of a machine equipped with human emotion.  Humans have historically killed each other.  That ability may only be enhanced by melding a human brain with a machine.  The black box of consciousness and the mechanics of consciousness are not revealed in these interviews.    

It appears these podcast interviews were either prior to the idea of cortical columns in the brain noted by Jeff Hawkins (a neuroscience engineer) who wrote “The Thousand Brains”.   Or, the scientists who are interviewed by Harris do not believe Hawkins’ experimental proof is convincing.  

An optimistic view struck by Max Tegmark suggests there is potential for abundance created through development of A.I.  Humans have squandered much of the world’s resources that could be better managed by A.I.  The need for human work could be exchanged for life’s enjoyment if A.I. were safely employed to balance human life with natural resources of the world.

  •  B) A.I. leadership is at a critical juncture.  Software development needs to include more investment in transparency and safety.  Boundaries must be defined and established to mitigate potential for conflict between human intelligence and machine intelligence.  There is a human as well as machine threat of authoritarianism without investment in software transparency and boundary imposition.
  • C) History shows the future is indeterminate.  The hope is that human thought and action will mitigate Luddite-like resistance to the productive potential of A.I.  Leadership knowledge and experience when an evolving technology requires equal investment in transparency and safety in the growth of A.I.  Without leadership, the potential for a dystopian future, wrought by technology and the fundamental physics of life, becomes as likely as its opposite.

Leadership in A.I. is critical to the future of humanity. 

Future prediction is an oxymoron, as evidenced by the history of change in agriculture and the industrial revolution. No one can reliably foresee the impact of A.I. on humanity. The future of A.I. is like God to Kierkegaard, humanity waits with fear and trembling.

This is only a cursory and inadequate review of Harris’s fascinating interviews of fellow scientists.   

FORK IN THE ROAD

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Remarkable Scientists and Their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrow’s World

By: Charles C. Mann

                                                   Narrated by : Bronson Pinchot

Charles C. Mann (Author, journalist, contributing editor fo Science, The Atlantic Monthly, and Wired.)

“The Wizard and the Prophet” is a cogent analysis of an environmental fork in the road.  Charles Mann chooses two twentieth century scientists to represent this fork in the road.  One road is to limit economic growth by conserving the environment. The other advocates economic growth by using technology to ameliorate environmental resource diminution and degradation.  Both Mann’s scientists are advocating preservation of human life.

Mann’s detailed history of the two representatives of conservation and amelioration of natural resources are, at times, tedious and unrewarding.  The prophet Mann chooses is William Vogt.  He is a prophet because he predicts environmental catastrophe from humanity’s overuse of natural resources.  The wizard is Norman Borlaug who uses science to improve agricultural production. 

Vogt is famous for writing the best-seller “Road to Survival”.  Borlaug is  famous for culturing a wheat variety that saves millions of people from starvation.

Mann recalls Borlaug’s research and seed hybridization that hugely increases wheat productivity in Mexico and throughout the farming world.

In listening to “The Wizard and the Prophet”, the fundamental difference between these two protagonists is Vogt believes less is more while Borlaug believes more is better because it improves the quality of life for current generations.  Both agree nature seeks balance, but one chooses conservation through science while the other chooses technological innovation. 

In their differences of opinion, Mann suggest both men believe nature’s balance can only be achieved by an either/or, not a common, proposition.  To Vogt, balance of nature requires living within one’s environment without upsetting nature’s balance.  Mann explains how Vogt and others explain human overpopulation is a principle cause of nature’s imbalance. Mann recalls Vogt’s history of telling nation-state leaders that humans should not deplete natural resources or interrupt natural process because imbalance of nature threatens human existence.  In contrast, Borlaug, believes nature’s balance can be maintained through technology.  The inference from Borlaug is that nature will rebalance on its own if resources are depleted or natural processes are interrupted.  Borlaug argues use of resources benefits people who will have a better life, while innovation can and will re-balance nature’s depletion and process. 

Population growth is a clear and present danger.  Mann argues life is a cycle. 

What Mann shows as weaknesses in both visions of the environment is that nature’s balance is a moving target.  Neither conservation nor technology assures humanity’s future.  Mann recounts experimental speculation that reaches back to the  4th century BC.  All living species follow an “S curve”.  (It’s not an “S” but that is what it is called.) A new species begins at the bottom, achieves a certain level of success, slows down, and begins recovery, declines again, and then disappears.  Presuming humanity follows other animal species that have disappeared over the centuries, so will humans.

 Human life has always been ephemeral.  Improving children’s lives today at least improves living standards for one more generation.  Each generation should focus on the best lives for the next generation.  Nature will always be in control of humanity’s destiny in this and other universes.

Mann chooses not to take sides, but it seems clear that whatever the wizards of science can find that improves the lives of today’s generation (wherever humans are on that “S” curve) is better than Vogt’s argument for conservation by any means necessary.

Be a pessimist if you must, be an optimist if you can, or be a realist, and know where we are is who we are.

HOW THE BRAIN WORKS

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

A Thousand Brains, A New Theory of Intelligence

By: Jeff Hawkins

                                   Narrated by : Jamie Renell, Richard Dawkins

Jeffrey Hawkins (Author, electrical engineer, neuro-science researcher, business person.)

Jeff Hawkins presents an enlightening and, to some, frightening view of humanity’s current condition and future existence. 

Enlightenment is in the explanation of how the brain works.  Fear is in Hawkins explanation of how human beings make their own choices, with inference that humans have free will.

Jeff Hawkins explains a brain has two fundamental parts.  One is a brain stem that extends from the limbic center of the brain. The new part is the neocortex.

The brain stem is the “old brain”, the seat of control for body function, with connection to the limbic mid-brain which contains emotion.  The “new brain” is an evolutionary consequence of “old brain” origin. The neocortex surrounds and sits on top of the brain stem and constitutes approximately 70% of the human brain.  The neocortex is Jeff Hawkins characterization as a “new brain”. 

The remarkable insight of the author is that these two brains are interconnected by cortical columns that give humans superior intelligence.  That insight opens the door to consciousness and the possibility of creating a dynamic relationship between man and machine.

Richard Dawkins, a British evolutionary biologist, writes a laudatory forward to “A Thousand Brains”.

Richard Dawkins comments give listeners clues to the momentous potential of Jeffrey Hawkins experimentally reproducible theory of how the brain works.  Richard Dawkins ground-breaking explanation of “The Selfish Gene” explains why Jeff Hawkins theory of “A Thousand Brains” has two fundamental parts, an “old brain” and a “new brain”.  Both brains are made up with cells with genes that have a singular purpose. Genes purpose is to genetically replicate themselves. Jeffrey Dawkins implies genes in the cells of the “old brain” came first and the “new brain” came later through natural selection.

Genes are deeply imbedded in cells, the basic building blocks of life.

Jeff Dawkins argues an old brain is the seat of life sustaining action with direct connection to the mid-brain below the neocortex. To Jeff Dawkins, a new brain is an evolutionary change for humans to reach beyond emotions and action for gene survival. The purpose of survival evolves with interaction between old and new brains to accommodate social change. The new brain recognizes gene survival requires more than a “kill or be killed” mentality inherent in “old brain” evolution.

Jeff Dawkins experimentally proves there are synaptic connections between new and old brains within cortical columns that offer choices for change to ensure gene survival.  That synaptic connection allows humans to draw on thousands of recorded memories from a person’s life.  These memories are hundreds of thousands of models of everything a human brain experiences.  As models they are only representations of reality, but humans make decisions based on those remembrances.

The flaw is that human decisions are made based on representations of reality, not necessarily true reality.  Experience models in human’ memory can be completely wrong. 

The implication of Jeff Hawkins’ research is two edged.  One edge leads to fictional characters like Dr. Moreau and Dr. Strangelove.  (Moreau is a mad scientist who creates “humanimals” and Strangelove is a fictional Nazi American advisor who wants to drop a nuclear bomb on the Soviet Union during the cold war.) The other edge may lead to a possible eternal future for humankind with travel to other worlds should this one become uninhabitable.

The first edge implies an “old brain” mad science geneticist who creates a software program for cortical columns to rule the world with an “old brain” use of force. 

The second edge is a software program for cortical columns that provides rational control of the “old brain” by the “new brain”. Both are intended to make decisions based on perceived circumstances for survival.  However, the “old brain” uses force, while the “new brain” uses memory of past experience and reasoned accommodation to circumstance. In either case, humans take advantage of genes survival imperative.  That imperative reinforces Richard Dawkins’ theory of the immortal gene that will do whatever it takes to survive.

Though the Dr. Moreau and Strangelove future is obviously negative, there is a flaw in Hawkins second edge.  It is the unreliability of human memory. Hawkins answer to this flaw is that a meld between human and machine mind can improve the accuracy of memory.  If memories are quickly and accurately recalled, machine/human choice is more likely to preserve life, at least a form of human life.

Still, one wonders who wins when there is conflict between human and machine memory.  Does the “old brain” overtake “new brain” cortical column software and respond with emotion and violence?

Jeff Hawkins endorses Richard Hawkins explanation of “The Selfish Gene”.  Evolution is simply a reflection of a gene’s desire to survive.  Jeff Hawkins infers a “new brain” uses a genetic survival meme that controls “old brain” inclinations. The question is—will the selfish gene of an “old brain” recognize this change as consistent with gene’s evolutionary imperative.

Jeff Hawkins believes A.I. research fails to follow the path of the “I” (intelligence) in A.I.  Jeff Hawkins has significantly contributed to human understanding of how the brain works.  His remarkable engineering perspective posits immense potential for artificial intelligence. However, if machines can truly be made to think and adapt, will they be allies or adversaries as their thinking evolves?  Hawkins, to avoid that possibility, suggests human brains and machines might be integrated to avoid extinction. With Richard Hawkins’ theory of gene survival instinct, a meld between human and machine assures, if not guarantees, human survival.   

With true A.I, constructive work can be done in inhospitable human environments like Mars.  However, to unleash machine intelligence requires a leap of faith.  Can humans trust machines without melding minds with machine technology?

Dawkins notes it is impossible for A.I., as it is presently being developed, to be capable of terra-forming another planet for human survival. Machines have to be able to think like humans in order to deal with the unknown difficulties of terra-forming another planet. Using cortical column programing to create thinking machines might offer the human race many worlds but nature has always gotten in the way of species immortality.

This is an easily understood book for non-scientists to appreciate where genetic science may lead humans. To some, it offers hope. To others, it denies existence of species demise (nature’s cycle of life and death), pre-destination, and belief in God.

DRUG ADDICTION

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Cherry

By: Nico Walker

                                                    Narrated by : Jeremy Bobb

“Cherry” is classified by critics as a semi-autobiographical novel.  It is written by an Army veteran of the Iraq war. 

The author, Nico Walker, judiciously introduces his novel as a work of fiction.  However, his life history parallels much of what he writes.  He is a veteran of the Iraq war and is now serving 11 years in prison for bank robbery. 

“Cherry’s” main character is a veteran of Iraq.  He robs banks to feed a heroin addiction.  Nico Walker’s real life seems a version of these  experiences.  As some critics suggest, write what you know, but only if “what you know” is interesting.  Walker’s novel is certainly interesting.

He marries and divorces a beautiful woman who is also an addict. 

It is difficult for many Americans, particularly those of us who have lived long, to understand how a handsome young man can waste his life.  That seems the underlying story of Walker’s main character.

Walker’s main character experiments with drugs early in his life. 

Some Americans choose the military because they are making a life transition.  The transition may be to escape parental supervision.  Or enlistment may be related to mistakes in one’s life and a court order tells them to join the service or go to jail.  Some young men and women just can’t figure out how to make a living on their own.  Any one of these reasons might apply to Walker’s main character.

Walker’s character joins the Army because he doesn’t know what else to do.  His reasons are not clearly identified. 

Cherry is slang for a green soldier newly arrived in a combat zone.  

Like all new recruits, Walker’s main character takes a military aptitude test which steers him toward assignment as an Army medic.  After basic, he is sent to Iraq.  He gets a front row seat to the carnage of war.  On the one hand, it appears war carnage may have driven Walker’s main character to drug addiction.  On the other, this fictional character has experience with drugs before Iraq. 

The troubling part of “Cherry” is that it conflates atrocities of combat with drug addiction.  The main character in “Cherry” uses drugs before he goes to war.  One doubts a veteran who did not use drugs before war is either more or less likely to become an addict after war. 

The story of addiction is bigger than war. 

Putting atrocity of war aside, Walker offers a profile of a person hooked on drugs.  Anyone who reads or listens to Walker’s vision of human addiction will be appalled by the downward spiral of an addict’s life.  Life revolves around an addict’s next fix.  It makes no difference if one is good or evil if one is an addict. The only thing that matters to the addicted is the next euphoric high.

Wars are a broadly shared political atrocity; drug addiction is a singular personal tragedy that infects society.  Both may lead to the end of humanity.

WHERE R U FROM

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Committed

By Viet Thanh Nguyen

Narrated by : Francois Chau

Viet Thanh Nguyen (American author, 2016 winner of Pulitzer prize for fiction.)

“The Committed” carries forward the life of three Vietnamese blood brothers introduced in “The Sympathizer”, Viet Thanh Nguyen’s earlier novel.  Nguyen’s story begins during America’s Vietnam war. 

In the beginning of “The Committed”, the main character, Vo Danh, arrives in Paris with his blood brother Bon.  Their first night’s stay is with a  communist sympathizer who is Vo Dahn’s aunt.  Bon is incensed by the aunt’s support of communism. Bon’s job as a Vietnamese counterspy in America was to murder communist sympathizers.  Bon wishes to leave immediately, but Vo Danh calms him down and they stay the night. However, Vo Danh continues to visit his aunt and for a time lives with her. 

The main character of “The Committed” believes all social beliefs one commits oneself to are corrupted by human nature.  To Vo Danh, his aunt is just who she is committed to be, without being either good or bad.

Vo Danh and Bon leave the next morning to find jobs at a Vietnamese restaurant near the Eiffel tower.  The restaurant is owned by a mobster.  They are hired and choose to rent a room from the mobster.  Bon mostly leaves Nguyen’s story until the last chapters of the book.  He chooses to keep a low profile as a restaurant employee. 

Vo Dahn takes an entirely different path. Vo Dahn becomes a customer procurer and seller for the mobster’s drug business.

Vo Danh’s experience in a Vietnam re-education camp taught him to believe in nothing.  That teaching came from his third blood brother who is commandant of the camp during the Vietnam war. 

This third blood brother is a communist sympathizer in name only.  Before becoming  camp commandant, this third blood brother is badly disfigured by an American napalm attack. He realizes Democracy’s liberation of Vietnam from communism is a meaningless chimera.  In that realization, he re-educates Vo Danh to understand communism, authoritarianism, and democracy are fictions. 

Re-education camps are a euphemism for detention and torture.

Committed beliefs about government mean nothing.  One’s first thought is that the third brother is simply a nihilist.  Vo Dahn understands something different.  In sum, the commandant teaches Vo Dahn that commitment to any ideological belief is a trap.  Even in accepting his blood brother’s re-education, Vo Dahn recalls the love of his mother.  He believes the selfless love of his mother saves him from being a nihilist.

Vo Dahn does not consider himself a nihilist but agrees that believing in nothing liberates humanity. 

In Paris, Vo Danh chooses to become a mobster who sells drugs for a percentage of profits.  He lives life as he chooses.  He expresses no personal scruple about sale or personal use of drugs or alcohol.  He has no fear of the drug supplying restaurant owner, arrest as a legal consequence, or possible attack by competing mobsters.  Vo Danh lives an amoral life informed by the love of his deceased mother.  His life experience and studied philosophical beliefs lead him to believe in nothing as a way of living in an unprincipled world.  His actions in the world are formed by the mother who loved him and a father (who is a priest) that abandoned him.

What is troubling about Nguyen’s story is that love and care is often missing or mutually misunderstood between a mother and her children.  One might accept Nguyen’s story for those children who are truly loved and cared for by their mothers.  However, if mothers are to be on a pedestal, what about the affect of mothers who do not truly love or care for their children.  Are uncaring mothers responsible for children who become mass murderers, dictators, mobsters, and other societal miscreants?

Nguyen’s story has a strong point of view, but it diminishes the complexity of a child’s growth to adulthood.  Interaction between mothers, fathers, and their offspring are interpreted though the minds of their children. 

One is reminded of fictional and news worthy stories of children who are raised in perfect families who become serial killers.

A recurring truism in Nguyen’s story is that all humans are created equal.  When one is asked where they are from, the only correct answer is “I am from my mother”.  Nothing else matters. Color, national origin, religious belief, or sexual orientation do not determine the value of a human being. Nguyen is a great writer with a point of view worthy of many philosophers of this and past ages.

CENSORSHIP

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Dangerous Ideas (A Brief History of Censorship in the West, from the Ancients to Fake News

By: Eric Berkowitz

Narrated by: Tim Campbell

Eric Berkowitz (Author, human rights lawyer and journalist

Eric Berkowitz recounts the history of free speech and censorship.  His history infers censorship is a misdirected waste of time.  Berkowitz argues freedom of speech is unstoppable.  Even in the most repressive governments in history, citizens have exercised freedom of speech. 

Berkowitz recounts many who chose to exercise free speech that were exiled, tortured, dismembered, maimed, or murdered.  However, these free speech martyrs insist on having their say. That seems Trump’s justification for suing Facebook and Twitter.

Pundits suggest Trump has no chance of winning his suit against Facebook and Twitter–Berkowitz’s presumed response would be “who cares?”

The fundamental point made many times in Berkowitz’s history is that censorship does not work because there is always someone who is willing pay any price to say what they think must be said.  Berkowitz offers many historical examples of why free speech is a confusing and difficult problem. 

Free speech can spread both truth and lie.

One of Berkowitz’s answers to the conundrum of free speech is that more freedom allows each listener to choose what they wish to believe.  Problems arise when freedom of speech offers lies as truth and misleads the public. 

White supremacism lies and Covid19 falsehoods have historically destroyed lives. 

In every country of the world, free speech is unstoppable because it is controlled by the few, not the many.

Listening to Berkowitz’s history vivifies a trip to China in 2019.  A guide, presumably at some risk to himself, took our small group into a private room to remind us of China’s response to the idea of free speech in Tiananmen Square . 

Our guide reminded us of one protester who moved in front of a Chinese tank whenever it tried to change directions.  The guide explained the “tank man” (who was never identified by name) was arrested, and never heard from again. 

At the direction of President Deng Xiaoping, 300,000 troops were mobilized to stop a demonstration by Chinese students.  China’s soldiers fired on college students and friends who were demonstrating their belief in free speech.  An unknown number of Chinese citizens (some say hundreds, others say thousands) were murdered at the direction of government leaders.  Our 2o19 Chinese guide was exercising his right of free speech by reminding us of what happened on June 4th, 1989.

Government is the first seat of control for free speech.  However, that first seat is diminished by singular economic interests. 

The rise of newspapers, radio, and television focused and expanded the principle of free speech.  Economic interests influenced these early platforms of free speech but with a more limited threat and benefit to the public.

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and the blogosphere have widened the principle of free speech and significantly increased potential public threat and benefit. 

In the age of newspapers, radio, and television, government controls were explicitly legislated but in the internet age control is hidden in platform algorithms.  Government may still have the first seat of control, but media moguls have usurped legislated government censorship.

Berkowitz offers no answers.  He only reveals the complexity of freedom of speech.  He suggests freedom of speech is an essential ingredient of a just society.  However, at the heart of free speech is economic interest. Free speech is secretly used to distort truth and sometimes incite violence. 

Whether it is a newspaper reporter told to revise an article that criticizes corporate advertisers or a discloser of government secrets there is societal threat.  Even more pernicious is the Amazon, Facebook, or Twitter executive who orders a coder to increase customer clicks for corporations that pay more for advertising.  And then there are the media trolls who distort the truth, lie, or incite violence to increase click count with no regard to consequence.

Freedom of speech is “…a riddle wrapped in an enigma” (a Winston Churchill quote about Stalinist Russia). Freedom of speech is a two edged sword, a tool for defense and destruction.

WORLDS OF IMAGINATION

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Dawn of the New Everything (A Memoir)

By: Jaron Lanier  

Narrated by: Oliver Wyman

American computer philosopher, computer scientist, visual artist, and musician.

Both Da Vinci (as characterized by Walter Isaacson) and Jaron Lanier are self-effacing geniuses without formal education. Both manage to create worlds of imagination.

Lanier’s memoir illustrates how refinement of virtual reality is as groundbreaking as Da Vinci’s understanding of light.  History will not likely view Lanier as the Da Vinci of our era but there are interesting similarities. 

Not to carry the comparison too far, Lanier magnifies the value of imagination without limiting its potential for both human good and evil. 

Da Vinci designs weapons of war that purposely fed the ambitions of his era’s tyrants.

Lanier is one of the pioneers of facial recognition.  Facial recognition is a tool that can be used by humanities’ tyrants as well as benefactors.  In conjunction with digitizing the lives of everyone, facial recognition implies a “Brave New World” as eminently realizable. 

A visit to China reinforces potential for loss of privacy and human volition with the advance of a digitized and monitored population.

One comes away from Lanier’s memoir with an appreciation for his candor about life and his unshaken belief in the value of technology.  He recognizes his personal imperfection while maintaining an optimistic view for the world’s rescue by AI as a tool rather than controller of human life.  There is some comfort in his opinion, but a listener reserves judgement based on the life Lanier has led.  He is undoubtedly a polymath but his memoir focuses more on pleasures than the reality of most people’s lives.

The principle of virtual reality lends itself to Lanier’s obsession with music and entertainment. 

Lanier is a musician, among many other talents.  He spends some of his time collecting and mastering abstruse musical instruments. 

One comes away from “Dawn of the New Everything” with the feeling that VR has greater potential for distraction than humanity’s betterment. There is respite from this perception with Lanier’s explanation of how VR is used for education and training. It is a virtual tool for medical and science education. 

On the other hand, VR is a tool for remote murder by a person guiding a drone.

B.F. Skinner, American psychologist, behaviorist, author, inventor, and social philosopher.

Lanier also notes that VR has the potential of making life conform to other’s interest.

The “Dawn of Everything” gives a clearer picture of what it was and is like to become a part of the Silicon Valley.  He candidly recounts his rise as a tech mogul, failure, and gadfly. 

Facebook and Twitter addiction are influencers with WMD potential.

Lanier’s memoir is at once enlightening and disheartening.  He offers a virtual picture of modern life that is influencing, but not yet controlling. Lanier is optimistic.  Many listeners will leave his memoir skeptical.

SMARTEST IN THE ROOM

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

How Not to Be Wrong

By: Jordan Ellenberg  

Narrated by Jordan Ellenberg

Jordan Ellenberg (Author, American mathematician, Professor of mathematics at University of Wisconsin-Madison).

Like listening to Brian Greene (a theoretical physicist), Jordan Ellenberg reminds one of what it must be like to be the smartest person in the room.  One feels better from the experience of listening to “How Not to Be Wrong”, but understanding will be a struggle for most non-mathematicians. A non-mathematician leaves Ellenberg’s book better informed, if not entirely enlightened.

A non-mathematician may be hesitant to take Ellenberg’s book in hand.  Ellenberg does not convince one that mathematics will always help one “…Not…Be Wrong”. However, Ellenberg convincingly argues mathematics will offer a better chance of being right.

Ellenberg is a professor of mathematics.  He capsulizes mathematics as the language of science.  He reveals how mathematics offers a qualified understanding of reality. 

Ellenberg shows how “right” is qualified by mathematical proof.  Like Brian Greene, Ellenberg shows how mathematics brings one closer to truth but only to the point of a “null hypothesis”.  A null hypothesis is a repeatable experiment where there is zero (null) difference in results.  Being right is dependent upon the same results from population samplings and relevant repeatable experiments.

What strikes at the heart of Ellenberg’s explanation of “How Not to Be Wrong” is human natures tendency to make events conform to plan.  Human beings can lie to themselves. 

Lying to oneself is the source of conspiracy theories based on the human strength and weakness of seeing patterns in nature.  Perceived patterns from observation may or may not meet the criteria of a “null hypothesis”.  Ellenberg suggests one should be skeptical of observed patterns that defy common sense.

What is disturbing about Ellenberg’s explanation of “How Not to Be Wrong” is that probability enters into the equation of truth. 

This is the same fundamental law noted by theoretical physicists like Brian Greene.  With the use of mathematics as the language of science, one can only expect a probability of truth: not certainty.

Ellenberg notes one must keep in mind–not being wrong is entirely different from being right.  Determination of whether one is right or wrong is two-edged where one edge offers a probability of being right while the other implies possibility of being wrong.  The uncertainty of probability is a lighted match that can burn down a forest of science.

That match is fanned into a flame by those who disparage all of science because of revised theories based on newly discovered facts. As an example–our recent experience with the former President of the United States who discredited the science of masking and distancing during the Covid 19 pandemic.

Ellenberg gives numerous examples of people who are misled by population sampling and the concept of correlation.  Human nature often misleads people to see patterns where cause is unrelated to effect.  Ellenberg argues that better understanding of mathematics can teach humans “How Not to Be Wrong”. 

Being right is always qualified by some level of probability.  Ellenberg explains repeatable experiment, with a level of consistency in mathematical proofs, is our way of not being wrong.  Good to know, but daunting to achieve when mathematics is the only avenue for understanding. 

Don’t we all want to know “How Not to Be Wrong”?  Is the language of mathematics the only avenue for understanding?  Therein lies the fear of realizing you are not the smartest person in the room.

HARBINGER OF A FUTURE

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Inevitable (Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future)

By: Kevin Kelly

Narrated by George Newbern

Kevin Kelly (Author, co-founding executive of Wired magazine).

Kevin Kelly’s book is a Libertarian’s guide to minimalist government. Kelly paints a clear picture of today’s internet of things and the direction in which it seems to be heading. If sharing replaces ownership, American Democracy must change or die. 

Kelly implies the evolution of technology will make all but defense of country the sole purpose of government.  This is a Libertarian dream.  What Kelly glosses over is the disinformation system of a sharing economy that misleads the public and foments anarchy.

Kelly argues block chain technology decentralizes the last bastion of government oversight by producing value (bit coin) based on an algorithm. Kelly infers there is no need for a Federal Reserve, or a bureaucracy to assure value of exchange, if currency is based on a mathematical formula.

Without the oversight of government, which includes bureaucratic regulations, a sharing economy diminishes the role of checks and balances.  Kelly correctly outlines what is happening in this technological world, but his extrapolation is frightening. 

In Kelly’s vision of a sharing economy, democracy is at risk of anarchy like that seen on January 6, 2021.

The public puts its head in the sand if they ignore Kelly’s view of the 12 technological forces in play today.

He describes flowing, screening, accessing, sharing, filtering, remixing, tracking, and questioning as the twelve technological forces that make the public codependent.  His observations reflect the “now” that presages a future.

The terror in Kelly’s observation is that human nature is not going to change in a sharing economy where nothing is owned but only shared.  Humans will game the system either by raiding the block chain vault or manipulating code to enrich their lives at the expense of others. 

Without a degree of centralized oversight (government), anarchy replaces equal rights and rule of law.

Any realization of codependence is anathema to the tradition of America. Human beings do not interpret the truth of facts in the same way.  Each has their own view of the world and their place in it. 

There will always be climate deniers, tree huggers, gun lovers and gun haters.

Kelly acknowledges there is need for some oversight of a sharing economy but implies the inclusion of everyone’s expression or belief will result in balanced self-governance and companionable A.I. for societal improvement. One may have a difference of opinion based on the events of January 6, 2021. That event’s aftermath will offer further clues to American Democracy’s future.

Decentralization of culture by the internet of things and A.I. dependence may be as “…Inevitable” as Kelly suggests.  The question today has to do with what can be done to allay its negative consequences.