PUTIN’S INVASION

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Invention of Russia

By: Arkady Ostrovsky

Narrated by: Michael Page

Arkady Ostrovsky (Author, Russian-born, British journalist spent 15 years reporting for the Financial Times from Moscow.

Arkady Ostrovsky’s book offers a personal perspective on post-1917 Russian political history.  Of particular interest today is in how Vladimir Putin came to power and how he may become an author of his own destruction.

Some listeners may conclude Putin’s invasion of Ukraine will doom his future as Russia’s leader. Others will conclude Putin will survive this political mistake because of Russia’s political history. 

Putin’s ascension after Gorbachev/Yeltsin seems foretold by Russian history.  As noted in Mark Steinberg’s lectures on Russian governance–since the 16th century, popular leaders (whether Czars or revolutionaries) prudently balanced authority and freedom. 

Though Gorbachev and Yeltsin were quite different as Russian leaders, they led Russia with an emphasis on freedom. Both offered freedom without adequate economic support for Russian Citizens.  In contrast, Ostrovsky argues Putin emphasizes authority with a measure of economic support that improves Russian lives.

Yeltsin fails because his reforms were largely political with little improvement in economic security for most citizens. Yeltsin’s support base came from oligarch’s economic gain rather than from policies designed to improve Russian citizens’ lives.  The early years of Putin’s reign emphasize authority with the help of media to influence public perception.

Putin uses secret service personnel and media to detain and restrain public opposition to the government. 

Ostrovsky notes the Chechen uprising is brutally suppressed by Putin. Chechens opt for a level of peaceful coexistence as a part of greater Russia.

Russian government control of media coverage emphasizes Chechen brutality while lauding Russian soldiers’ success in abating Chechen independence.  Ostrovsky suggests the reality of Chechen brutality is real but Russian soldier’s success in abating brutality is exaggerated by government-controlled media. Ostrovsky reports many Russian’ innocents are murdered in the process of rescuing children and teachers from a school attacked by Chechen rebels.

In 2004–Besian school massacre in Russia.

Ostrovsky explains the first President of Russia, Boris Yeltsin, personally endorses Putin as his successor.  Yeltsin is nearing the end of his life after a fifth heart attack.  He views Putin as the best hope of Russia to return to national prominence because of Putin’s relative youth and experience as a former KGB officer.  Putin has political experience as an aid to the former Mayor of Moscow.

However, Ostrovsky notes Yeltsin discounts the paranoia of Putin and how his experience as a KGB officer makes him suspicious of any activity over which he has no control. Ostrovsky suggests KGB training gives Putin the ability to hide behind a persona adopted to sooth the concerns of whomever he meets. That ability disguises Putin’s personal thoughts when dealing with controversial issues.

(The KGB is dismantled in 1991 but its apparatchiks remain in Putin’s government.)

The media during the Gorbachev/Yeltsin years grows as an independent oligarchic organization.  The two edges of power in media are telling convincing truths as easily as lies.  Yeltsin owes his electoral success to media according to Ostrovsky.  Yeltsin, before his last election as President, has a single digit approval rating from the Russian public.  With the help of a media oligarch and Yeltsin’s populist skill, he wins the election. On election day, Ostrovsky notes Yeltsin is nearly dead from a fifth heart attack.

Ostrovsky explains the growth of oligarchs begins with Gorbachev and gains momentum with Yeltsin.  The communist party leaders are losing their hold on governance, but they are well positioned to understand how things get done and can be controlled with acquired individual wealth.  Some of these former communist party leaders use their position to start personal companies with the financing of government money over which they have control.  They become behind-the-scenes movers and shakers for the Russian economy.  Their personal wealth grows, and the general economy begins to improve.

In the short term, these new barons of wealth improve the lives of many Russian citizens.  However, this unrestrained capitalist revolution begins to rot at its core.  Political power follows money.  Money supports political leaders that kowtow to oligarchic demand. An oligarch’s demand may or may not benefit the general public. 

When political leaders act in ways that support oligarchic demand, they improve their prospect for re-election.  In some cases, dynamic political leaders gain some independence based on their popular appeal.  Putin seems to have achieved some level of that power. With the help of popular appeal, public support can become a source of power to challenge oligarchic demand.  It seems Putin may have achieved both power bases, but invasion of Ukraine may change that support.

Robert Kagan finely reveals the fundamental mistake made by Putin in a May-June 2022 “Foreign Affairs” article. History reveals the mistakes of great nations like France, Great Britain, Germany and Japan in thinking they could become world hegemons by force.

Robert Kagan (A neoconservative Republican scholar and member of the Council on Foreign Relations of the Brookings Institute.)

Kagan notes America became a world force by virtue of economic growth which led to a choice by other nations to recognize American hegemony. Rather than capitalizing on the natural resources of Russia, Putin chooses to waste his country’s wealth on a war Russia will lose. It is a lesson one hopes China realizes in its pursuit of its sphere of influence. Sphere of influence is determined by economic growth, not military power.

Ostrovsky argues media is reality in Russia. World media is not the same as the Russian media that is tightly controlled by government leadership.  Further Ukraine invasion is not a Chechnian rebellion.  Chechnya is a small area within Russia–with an estimated 1.2 million people. Ukraine is an independent country of 44.3 million. 

Russian media might be controlled within Russia, but the world’s news will seep into Russian citizen’s knowledge, either by the internet or other means. 

Russia may be an invention as Ostrovsky suggests but all nation-states in the course of history are inventions.  History changes with information.  Dissemination of information is increasingly uncontrollable. 

In time of war, Nagasaki and Hiroshima show what uncontrolled fission can do in the event of a nuclear bomb. Fukushima shows what uncontrolled fission can do in time of peace.

Invading Ukraine may lead to loss of Putin’s power and influence in Russia.  The tragic consequence of Putin’s decision is the unnecessary death of many Ukrainians and Russians. The decision to invade Ukraine may lead to Putin’s dismissal, imprisonment, or execution. It has certainly changed his reputation in the world.

MIGRATION

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Next Great Migration (The Beauty and Terror of Life on the Move)

By: Sonia Shah

Narrated by Sonia Shah

Sonia Shah (Journalist-born in NYC to Indian Immigrants.

Sonia Shah takes a broad look at migration.  She personalizes her view and, at the same time, writes about the broad tableau of nature’s migratory imperative.  Myths and misunderstandings are exposed by Shah. 

The lie of Disney’s lemming suicide documentary is largely forgotten in the 21st century.  Disney implied overpopulation leads to a deep-rooted impulse to compel millions of lemmings to jump off a cliff to their death.  She notes the documentary is a staged lie.  The only truth is that scarcity and fear compel animals to migrate.  There is no mass instinct for death.  There is only an instinct for species survival.

Shah notes the fundamental motivation for migration is survival.  Whether writing about butterflies or human beings, the animal kingdom chooses to migrate because of changes in their environment that degrade their way of life.  It is not an easy choice to move. 

Shah explains humans fear change.  One imagines what it is like for a young adult to move to a foreign country that speaks a different language, is exposed to a different culture, knows only a few fellow countrymen, and is thrown into a job market that makes or breaks their future. 

Shah correctly identifies the idiocy of Trump’s classification of migrants that are “…bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists, and some, I assume, are good people”. 

That is true of all people in the world, whether American or foreign born.  Human nature “…is what it is” as Trump’s callous comment about Covid19 deaths reiterates.  

A young person may have left his home country because of economic, environmental, or political changes that threatens life, but it is a life he/she understands.  Shah notes, that is the “…Terror of Life on the Move”.

Though it is cliché—America is founded by migrants.  Even Trump’s parents were migrants. Shah’s parents are doctors from India that migrated and made a life in America in ways that serve the needs of their new home.  They gave birth to an American-born daughter who has contributed to America’s understanding of migration’s beauty and terror. Migrants are not America’s burden.  They are America’s hope.

Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983, American architect, systems theorist, author, futurist.)

Shah’s purpose in “The Next Great Migration” is not to solve the world’s problems but to explain all life migrates to survive.  As Buckminster Fuller noted, we live on “Spaceship Earth”.  Human life on “Spaceship Earth” depends on how humans are treated if we are destined to survive.

FREEDOM’S HERO

Audio-book Review
 By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Gorbachev (His Life and Times)

By: William Taubman

Narrated by Henry Strozier

William Taubman (Author, Political Science professor at Amherst College, received 2004 Pulitzer Prize for Biography of Krushchev.)

The length of William Taubman’s audiobook requires a Gorbachev II review.  The first review addresses Gorbachev’s personal life.  The second reflects on Gorbachev’s political life.  Gorbachev’s life is suffused with great accomplishment and tragic failure. 

Georgy Malenkov replaces Joseph Stalin after his death in 1953.  Malenkov is believed to be a reformist who plans to reduce military spending and Stalinist suppression.

However, within weeks, Malenkov is pushed aside by Nikita Khrushchev who takes supreme power within two years of Stalin’s death.  Surprisingly, Khrushchev becomes something of a reformist himself.

Nikita Khrushchev (1894-1971, First Secy. of the Communist Party 1953-1964)

 

Stalin’s autocratic, paranoid leadership is semi-privately exposed by Khrushchev in a speech to the Central Committee of the Communist Party.  Khruschev’s vilification of Stalinist suppression, imprisonment, and murder eventually become known to the world.

The overriding concern of Russian leaders is to maintain suzerainty over Baltic nations and satellite territories in the face of ethnic and economic diversity.  Taubman notes older Russian leaders tend toward autocratic dictate to maintain political control.  The younger and more politically astute lean toward confederation of adjacent soviet republics and East Berlin with the U.S.S.R. as an umbrella organization.  Gorbachev is in the “politically astute” group.

Mikhail Gorbachev rises to chairman of the Communist Party and eventual President of the U.S.S.R., with the expressed intent of democratizing the Baltics, Russia, and East Berlin into a democratic socialist block.  However, ethnic, and cultural differences, accompanied by general economic failure, defeat Gorbachev’s unionist objective.

There is no question of Gorbachev’s success in democratizing U.S.S.R.’ citizens. 

However, in that democratization, the drive for independence becomes paramount to the satellite countries.  German reunification, and the breakaway of Baltic nations from the U.S.S.R. is inevitable.  Freedom, based on ethnic and cultural identity, surmount all efforts by Gorbachev to reinstate U.S.S.R. suzerainty.  Only by force could the U.S.S.R. prevail over state and territorial independence.  Taubman notes force is not within Gorbachev’s nature as a leader.

Once socialist democracy is dangled before the electorate, the die is cast.  Gorbachev’s governance could not provide enough economic stability to justify confederation.  That is his tragic failure.

Gorbachev’s immense success is liberating millions of former U.S.S.R. citizens.  With liberation, former citizens of the U.S.S.R. return to govern as citizens of their own countries.  This at a time of Reagan’s conservative government in the United States, and European distrust of U.S.S.R. militarization.  Taubman shows Gorbachev becomes an international hero based on his personality and persuasive power.  He is greeted as the great liberator of the twentieth century even though his primary objective is to retain those countries seeking freedom within the U.S.S.R.

Gorbachev raised the bar for nuclear disarmament by cultivating American and European participation in the reduction of nuclear weapons. 

Taubman explains Gorbachev is a tragic hero because momentum-of-change is halted by a cult of personality, compounded by economic insecurity.  Gorbachev is replaced by acting President, Alexander Rutskoy, after the 1993 constitutional crises. Rutskoy is replaced by a second acting President, Viktor Chernomyrdin. Boris Yeltsin succeeds Chernomyrdin as President in an overlapping term.

The Russian economy falters in its transition from communism to democratic socialism.  Russian history of “rule-of-one” reasserts itself with the rise of an incompetent President (Boris Yeltsin) and an autocratic but effective leader, Vladimir Putin.  However, Putin’s autocratic effectiveness is in question with the invasion of Ukraine.

Taubman suggests and infers Gorbachev’s success, and world history in general, are two steps forward with one step backward. Based on historical precedent of “one-man-rule” (dating back to czarist Russia) Taubman’s inference seems spot-on. 

Gorbachev flipped a switch that released the power of democracy but failed to provide adequate economic infrastructure to assure U.S.S.R. survival.  Taubman optimistically infers economic infrastructure of eastern bloc countries will improve overtime, even with autocratic leadership by people like Vladimir Putin. 

The growth of democracy has always been messy, but it moves forward in the face of temporary setbacks.  Spheres of influence will always be in play.   It seems a matter of time for another Gorbachev to make two more steps forward with a repeat of the next leader’s “one-step-backward”.  It appears in 2022, Putin makes that “one-step-backward” with the invasion of Ukraine. Taubman reminds readers of America’s trial in the civil war. Slavery is abolished but institutional racism remains a work in progress. The risk is that the world destroys itself before freedom and economic security become real for all.

FORMULA FOR PEACE

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Anatomy of Peace

By: The Arbinger Institute (Third Edition: Resolving the Heart of Conflict)

Narrated by: Kaleo Griffith

The Arbinger Institute was founded in 1979 by Dr. C. Terry Warner.  He co-authored “Leadership and Self Deception”.  In 1967 he received his Ph.D. from Yale University and is a professor at Brigham Young University. 

          The Arbinger Institute offers leadership training and consulting to organizations, families, and individuals around the world.   

              In “The Anatomy of Peace” a story is told about an Israeli and Palestinian who run a  youth camp for troubled children.  One presumes this is a story, not an actual event, that is designed to advise reader/listeners of the “…Institutes” beliefs.

“The Arbinger Institutes” objective is to identify the causes of human conflict and how it can be resolved.

              As the world knows, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict continues to rage without any evidence of resolution.  Some argue the solution is splitting the area into two states.  Others insist only one state is necessary with representation by resident voters.  “The Anatomy of Peace” argues neither solution addresses the fundamental cause for conflict, nor will it result in peace.

              Before explaining the camp leader’s histories in the middle east, the story begins with a young girl arguing with her family about being left at the camp for two weeks.  The young girl refuses.  The camp is in Arizona where temperatures rise well above 100 degrees in the summer.  This young girl runs away with no shoes on her feet.  She is followed by two young people who were once miscreates enrolled at the camp but are now employees.  They follow her, and catch up after several hours of flight to find her feet bloody and burned.  One of the two camp employees offers the shoes she is wearing to the runaway.  The runaway refuses.  Both employees choose to take their shoes off and continue running after her.  When she stops in a shopping center where she sees a friend of hers, they all come together.  The runaway looks at the camp employees and is shocked to see her pursuers had taken off their shoes.  The runaway agrees to stay for two weeks at the camp.  Her reason for staying is symbolic.

              The troubled children’s camp is run by an Israeli and a Palestinian who are at peace with each other despite the conflict in their home country.  Both have lost their fathers because of war.  In their younger adult lives, both harbored hate for their enemies, the killers of their fathers and countrymen.  Their respective stories are about how each overcomes their hate.  It is same as the story of the runaway.  They recognize each other as human beings.  They refer to Martin Buber who wrote the book “I and Thou” which recognizes the importance of reverencing the humanness of all human life.

Martin Buber (1878-1965, Author, 20th century philosopher.)

              The point is made that all people conflict with themselves when they treat others as objects rather than fellow members of humanity.  The principle of meditation is raised to get in touch with yourself, to understand yourself, to realize that in-common humanness is what must be recognized for peace to come among combatants.

              What the authors argue is that humans create boxes that carry the weight of who they are–which is not who they really are or mean to be.  In knowing oneself and the boxes we create for ourselves, we act in ways that defy the truth of all people’s humanness.  This idea is old.  It is the same idea that ancient Greeks spoke of when saying “know thyself”.  The Institute teaches that in self-understanding (knowing what boxes one is in) and realization of all people’s humanness, one can find peace. 

              The idea is to stay out of boxes that define you. This seems too simple. However, it is not simple or easy because of our inability to break out of boxes that have been formed over years of experience.   The first step is to not objectify other human beings.  Human labeling puts one in a  box.  The box creates someone who is an object, not a fellow human being.  The second is to know yourself and understand your boxes.  The last step is to get rid of the boxes.  Have empathy and do the things that make you feel good about your humanness.

The author makes the point that many things in life are beyond our control but those thoughts and actions that are within our control should be done in ways that make us feel good about ourselves.

                They argue you are in a box if you do not feel good about what you do.  Self-awareness sets one free to find peace.  There is a great deal to offer leaders and managers of other people in the teachings of the Arbinger Institute. A skeptic may find the Arbinger Institute’s formula for peace Pollyannaish. It will only change those who choose love and self-understanding in the face of human nature’s desire for money, power, and prestige.

Does the Arbinger Institute’s formula for peace have any application to the realpolitik of Russia’s interest in Ukraine and Georgia?

In Tolstoy’s view leaders are great because they rise to the circumstances of their times; not because they are wiser, more intelligent, all powerful, or omniscient, but because their decisions appear right in light of history.

What boxes inhibit President Zelensky and Putin?

BUDDHISM

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Being Peace

By: Thich Nhat Hanh

Narrated by: Edoardo Ballerrini

Thích Nhất Hạnh (Author, Buddhist Monk, Zen Master, Political Activist.)

“Being Peace” is a layman’s introduction to Buddhist belief.  Thích Nhất Hạnh offers a “let it be” philosophy of life while being a political activist.  Hanh’s philosophy of peace comes through meditation. Hanh finds through meditation human life is found to be neither good nor bad. 

There is no evil in Hanh’s world.  In one sense that reminds one of Christian’s belief in “turning the other cheek”.  The difference is that Christian’s believe there is evil in the world, and it must be punished.

Hanh tells a story of a Sudanese pirate that rapes a girl-child and throws her into the sea to drown.  Hanh suggests he could have become a Sudanese sea pirate by having experienced Sudanese poverty and depredation.  Hanh’s view is that the circumstances of life and environment create miscreants, rapists, and murderers.

Contrary to belief in evil and punishment for moral transgression, Hanh finds empathy for those who pillage, torture, murder, and rape. 

Hanh’s solution is to accept Buddhist belief in peace through meditation.  In accepting life as it is, evil doers disappear.  This is certainly an oversimplification of Hanh’s teaching. 

Hanh notes world leaders squander world resources that could be used to create and sustain peace for all people in the world.  He decries wasted dollars for military defense.  His argument is predicated on abundance that is unevenly distributed.

Hanh lives through the French and American atrocities in Vietnam.  

Hanh undoubtedly observed the senseless murder of innocents by both western powers and communists.  

Ironically, until more recently, Hanh was banned from Vietnam because of the crowds he attracted to his teaching.  Fear of competition from someone independent of the government frightens communist bureaucrats.  Hahn is now allowed in Vietnam, but his forums are restricted to small groups of believers.

Money, power, and prestige seduce the poor, middle class, and rich, whether in a democracy or autocracy.  There are few exceptions–maybe only Buddhist meditators, and Socratic philosophers–not the general public.

Hanh’s book is insightful but inadequate when measured against the innate nature of humankind.  On a personal level, one can accept the value of meditation in seeing things as they are and how they should be.  However, on a global level, it is difficult to imagine broad acceptance of meditation.

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 cultures and species die.

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.