Antisocial Online Extremists, Techno-Utopians, and the Hijacking of the American Conversation
By: Andrew Marantz
Narrated by Andrew Marantz
Andrew Marantz (American author, staff writer for The New Yorker magazine)
Marantz researches social media trolls in his book “Antisocial”.
For those who are not familiar with the meaning of #media Trolls, they are people who use the internet to create, no matter what, discord by writing or saying something false and misleading.
Of course, what is said in the media does not have to be true. The difference is, the measure of success on the internet is an increase in the number of clicks one receives and the number of follower’s gob smacked by the messenger. It has zero to do with truth.
The internet lists 8 of the greatest internet trolls of all time. Their media names, like QAnon, are irrelevant but their duped followers are legion. All hide behind the rubric of a free press.
What makes internet trolls a societal cancer is their distortion of truth. Internet trolls are a societal cancer. Some trolls believe “buyer beware”. To a troll, the truth of speech is the responsibility of the individual. Separating the truth from a lie becomes an uninformed public’s responsibility.
A troll feels no compunction for lying, misleading, or stretching the truth. A committed troll argues that everyone should have the choice to believe or not believe.
With the Communications Decency Act passed by Congress in 1996, Section 230 protects free expression on the internet. The consequence of that Act is under advisement by Congress because it protects malicious purveyors of lies from prosecution. As noted by columnist Christopher Mims, it is a problem with no clear solution.
Trolls argue truth is fungible because of inherent bias in the messenger. At best, trolls view their role is to mitigate corporate and government brain washing; at worst, they create a forum for massing hate and discrimination.
Say anything is the terrifying thing about social media. The irony of America’s free speech is its only defense is free speech.
Marantz interviews numerous trolls that believe all media communication is good, or at least useful communication. Marantz explains trolls argue media has historically distorted the truth.
Marantz notes the fallacy of the Troll’s argument is in the release of white supremacist and hate-filled speech that aims at changing the norms of society.
Trolls say the unsayable for wealth and notoriety; not for the betterment of humanity, or the search for truth.
White supremacy becomes a flag around which a small minority of society can join to become a political force.
The risk to the American electorate from media trolls is that they create a disillusioned and apathetic public that doesn’t know who or what to believe.
In the book “1984” Orwell showed how media control is dangerous. Marantz shows how no control is equally dangerous; particularly in the internet era.
Marantz makes listeners realize how dangerous internet trolls are to America, and any nation trying to improve the quality of life for their citizens.
Twenty first century American democracy seems particularly at risk. Americans believe in the critical importance of freedom, but American freedom has always been qualified by rule of law in “doing no harm” to others.
The infancy of the internet needs regulation. The government must fight the hijacking of the American electorate by internet trolls. The internet is driven more by popularity and money than morality and truth.
Marantz convinces a listener that American freedom of speech is not a license for anarchy.
George Orwell (1903-1950, Author born in India, a British Citizen)
Orwell published “1984” in 1949. Orwell’s vision of totalitarianism, technology, and thought-control match today’s fears and failures in America.
Technology (then and now) is a threat to everyone’s privacy and self-determination.
However, technology has a much wider; more intrusive role today than in 1949
Advances in social media through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and others–with the help of Google, Amazon, and Apple, are encroaching on everyone’s right to privacy and personal thought.
Jingoism, war threats, and propaganda fill newspapers, television reports, and the Internet to influence and manipulate indigenous and exogenous populations.
7/31/2019-China blames America for Hong Kong demonstrations. .
American, Chinese, Iranian, Syrian, Russian and Turkish governments tell the world that their internal turmoil is caused by outside influences.
Truth is hidden by Trump’s divisive diversions and subversions. Trump’s dishonest attack on Georgia’s election process is his latest diversion and subversion of American Democracy.
The Republican party can look to Trump to find why Georgia is now represented by two Democrats in the Senate.
Trump and Erdogan are masters of this art. As Lord Acton noted: Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
In the recent past, it was gangster-ism in Ukraine; yesterday it was abandoning Kurdish allies who fought by the side of Americans in Syria; and today it is “don’t be afraid of Covid19” or Erdogan’s intervention in Armenia.
History reveals murders, imprisonment, and rigged elections caused by malignant use of the internet. Though the victim/hero of “1984” is tortured to say “2 + 2 make 5”, the use of the internet gives forum to lies and hate that make the unwary believe “2 + 2 makes 5”.
Orwell’s vision of totalitarianism and population indoctrination in “1984” is more direct than today’s media manipulations. Google argues that search-engine’ clicks are meant to customize consumer searches for information, but how far is that from thought control?
The inherent subtlety of social media seduces rather than tortures people into thinking in a particular way.
People are killed by media manipulation of the truth. Media manipulations cause conflict, but rarely cause death on a mass scale. (Of course, it is a mass scale to the mother, father, grandparent, sibling or friend who loses someone they love.) Orwell is saying there are no ideological differences between a media-manufactured war and a real war when people die. Is the American government out of control?
Ukrainian Airlines Crash from Iranian missile launch mistake
Orwell points to media-manufactured wars that are not really wars between nation-states. Thought diversions and public-conflict misinformation spread by the government and the media make indigenous populations endorse, obey, and follow their leaders.
Now we have the economic and health threat of Covid19. What measures must be taken to mitigate the economic destruction and death that it causes? Where is the line drawn between autocratic rule and democracy? With a President acting as king, are America’s “checks and balances” strong enough to protect volitional rights?
With arbitrary hiring and firing of critical government administrators there is reason to doubt more economic destruction and death are not inevitable.
Add private sector big data use to government sector misinformation, and individuals lose both privacy and independence.
Acquisition of nuclear weapons to foment a war is a fiction. It is a fiction designed to manipulate public opinion.
The concern over nuclear proliferation is about fear of mistakes and nuclear accidents; not nuclear war.
This is not to say nuclear proliferation is not a danger to the world. It is a danger, but more because of its use as a political weapon than a tool of war.
The fact is, nuclear accidents occur; for example, Russia’s recent nuclear-weapon’s failure in August 2019.
Iran and North Korea incite their people to expand nuclear weaponry to gain status in the world. It is not an irrational move in the real politic of public affairs. A former Israeli spy master (Meir Dagan) noted on national television that Iran’s government officials are rational; mutual nuclear destruction is not rational.
Orwell characterizes nation-state populations as three tiered; e.g. upper, middle, and lower. The upper class conception is a ruling class that controls a nation; the middle class strives to become a part of the upper class, and the lower class (estimated at 25% in the U.S.) is suppressed by both the upper and middle class to maintain the three tiered structure.
Orwell suggests the upper class becomes a kind of collective with a particular ideology that usurps capitalist ambition by trading wealth for collective power. This is the concern one has over the widening gap between rich and poor.
One might say that the “collective” concept has more relevance in a socialist country but money is power in America so Orwell’s upper class definition is equally relevant in a largely capitalist country. The difference is a matter of degree; i.e. rather than an oligarchy of socialists, America has an oligarchy of wealthy corporations and multi-millionaires.
Today’s Moneyocracy is the upper class described in “1984” and the “Occupy Wall Street” protesters are Orwell’s revolutionary hero/victims
A striking parallel between Orwell’s “1984” and today is western culture’s 21st century “Occupy Wall Street” movement. The “Occupy Wall Street” movement has protesters but they cannot articulate actions that can practically actualize their revolution.
All revolutionaries cannot be subverted, imprisoned, or murdered. One might argue Orwell’s “1984” torture of revolutionaries is being replaced by corporate use of private data and government propaganda to achieve the same purpose.
BRIAN CHRISTIAN (CO-AUTHOR, WRITER OF NONFICTION, SCIENCE, PHILOSOPHY)
TOM GRIFFITHS (CO-AUTHOR, PROFESSOR OF PSYCHOLOGY AND COGNITIVE SCIENCE UC BERKLEY)
“A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” explains that the ultimate answer to the meaning of life is 42; however, Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths tell us it is 37 in “Algorithms to Live By”.
Griffiths and Christian argue that if you want to have an optimum answer to a complex question, it will take 37% of an allotted amount of time to study the known and unknown details of a question to come up with an optimum answer. Keep in mind, this is not a perfect answer but a probabilistic optimum answer; i.e. an answer based on what is known and unknown.
CHRISTIAN AND GRIFFITHS INFER THE COMPLEXITY OF LIFE MAKES ANSWERS TO LIFE’S MEANING LIMITED.
Christian and Griffiths outline what they argue is an explanation of human decision-making. The implication of their conclusion suggests AI is unlikely to improve human cognition because it only adds information to complex human questions.
If you sit at a poker table for three hours, the first hour should be used to gather information about your competition. You will never know everything you need to know to win a hand of poker. But, you will improve your chances of winning by taking slightly more than 1/3rd of your time gathering information about the way your competitors play. This is a simplistic way of looking at Christian’ and Griffiths’ explanation of human decision-making.
The authors identify the discoverer of this algorithm as Merrill Flood, an American mathematician who, with Melvin Dresher, came up with the Prisoner’s dilemma, a model of cooperation and conflict.
MERRILL FLOOD (SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGIST FOR RAND IN 1950, ALONG WITH MERRILL FLOOD FRAMED THE PRISONER’S DILEMMA GAME THEORY)
MELVIN DRESHER (POLISH BORN AMERICAN MATHEMATICIAN, INVENTED
THEORETICAL MODEL OF COOPERATION AND CONFLICT.)
Everyone loses in “The Prisoner’s Dilemma”. Christian and Griffiiths note the game can be changed by one variable. The example given is the introduction of a Mafia leader that says anyone who rats on another will be murdered. The introduction of this new variable changes the probability of either robber ratting on the other.
The Prisoner’s Dilemma” is the story of two robbers that are placed in separate cells, interrogated independently, and offered a shorter sentence if one rats on the other. The prosecutor does not have enough evidence for conviction without one ratting on the other. If both robbers rat on each other, they will serve the same sentence. If only one rats on the other, he/she gets a shorter sentence. If neither robber rats on the other, the robbers are convicted on a lesser charge.
The 37% factor offers truth but fails to give much comfort to one seeking knowledge about life. It reminds one of the funny idea suggested by “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” with the number 42. The authors suggest 37% is considerably better than knowing nothing but they imply the complexity of life makes outcomes entirely probabilistic. One presumes–the more you know, the better your decisions will be. Christian and Griffith disagree with that presumption. They suggest too much information skews the probability of truth.
CHRISTIAN AND GRIFFITH INFER ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE WILL OFFER NO BETTER DECISION MAKING CAPABILITY THAN HUMANS.
With computers and the internet, one would think truth would be easier to find. Christian and Griffith suggest computers only offer added complexity; not truth. They argue computers are only tools for revealing complexity.
Christian and Griffith suggest 37% is the best one can do in getting to the truth. The authors suggest there is a point of diminishing return with more information; i.e. too many accumulated facts distort the truth and take one farther away from a 37% probability. A recent example is statistical sampling concluding Hillary Clinton would be the next President of the United States.
A 37% BOUNDARY FOR ANSWERS TO THE MEANING OF LIFE
There is much more in Christian and Griffiths exploration of algorithms, but it is disheartening to realize human search for truth is constrained by a 37% boundary. A logical extension of their argument is that artificial intelligence is as likely to mislead humanity as human intelligence. The authors argue–the nature of AI only increases information for answers to complex questions. By adding too much information, more facts are known with less chance of knowing the truth.
This is an enlightening exploration of the world of algorithms and computer science. On the one hand, it suggests human intuition is highly valuable; on the other, the authors explain it is unwise to rely on instinct alone. Christian and Griffiths explain life decisions, even with complex computer driven algorithms are less; not more likely to be correct.
Some useful tools for life’s management are explained but there is a ring of truthiness in Griffiths’ and Christian’s conclusions. Of course, at best, this review shows only a 37% chance of being true.
The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin
Written by: Steven Lee Myers
Narration by: Rene Ruiz
Vladimir Putin is no Tsar. Steven Lee Myers has written a highly polished and informative biography but fails to convince one that Putin is a Tsar. Putin is more Richard Nixon than Catherine the Great. Putin, like Nixon, is smart and thin-skinned. Putin, like Nixon, makes personnel decisions based on loyalty, and views the world in real-politic terms.
Myers shows that Putin comes from a family of Russian patriots with a grandfather and father that fought in Russian armies in different generations. Each lived during the Stalinist years of Gulags and terror but none rebelled against the power of Russia’s leadership.
Myers explains how Putin becomes interested in the KGB at the age of 16 and grooms himself for a life in the secret service. Putin’s KGB-influenced’ career-path is to become an attorney. He learns German and is assigned to East Germany in his first years as a KGB agent.
Myers explains how Putin’s steely disposition grows in East Germany, and later St Petersburg, Russia. Putin keeps a low profile but exhibits bravery, independence, and initiative when his country’s leaders are overwhelmed by the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain.
Putin becomes the “go-to” guy for the Mayor of Leningrad (aka St. Petersburg). Putin’s relationship to the Mayor of Leningrad, Anatoly A. Sobchak, is founded on loyalty. Sobchak is initially recognized as a representative of new Russia but the power of his position is diminished by the ineptitude of his administration. In spite of Sobchak’s mistakes, Myers shows that Putin stands by him. Loyalty is a characteristic of Putin that is expected of all who work with him. Eventually Sobchak is electorally defeated and Putin is left out of a job.
Russia is unlikely to be ruled by a Tsar again because its population is better educated; aware of the value of qualified freedom, insured by relative social stability and security. Russia is equally unlikely to return to a repeat of U. S. S. R.’s hegemonic control because ethnic nationalism and the desire for greater freedom are unquenchable thirsts. This is not to say Russia will not remain a major international power and influence in the world. Nuclear capability and cybernetics guarantees Russia’s position in world affairs.
Forcing the Ukraine or Georgia to return to the Russian block or quelling Chechen resistance is beyond the military strength of Russia’s Putin or his successors. Reassembly of a form of the U. S. S. R. is only conceivable based on political accommodation based on economic influence or volitional federation. Neighboring countries can only be seduced; i.e. either by economics, or cybernetic influence. A majority vote of neighboring countries; not military dominion, will be the “modus vivendi” for Russian expansion.
But what about the Crimea. It is a part of the Ukraine.
An argument can be made that territory of the Crimea is not an exception; it is proof of the point. Millions of dollars were spent by Russia to modernize Crimea for the Olympics. Undoubtedly, a great deal of time was spent influencing Crimea’s population (which is ethnically 65% Russian). It is conceivable that a majority of the Crimea residents voted to become part of Russia.
Of course, this sets aside the truth of Crimea’s territorial and nationalist connection with Ukraine. One might argue this is analogous to Hitler’s invasion of Czechoslovakia. Hitler used the excuse that ethnic Germans were being abused in the Sudetenland. In this view, Putin is no Tsar; i.e. he is more Stalinist.
(To make the Sudetenland the equivalent of the Crimea one might ask oneself if the majority in the Sudetenland were ethnic Germans, and was there a vote by Sudetenland residents.)
Myers cogently reveals the strengths and weaknesses of modern Russian rule. In a limited sense (limited by Myers’ independent research and fact checking), Myers’ corroborates the experience noted in William Browder’s book, “Red Notice”. Putin is certainly capable of undermining the influence or action of any person in Russia who chooses to challenge his authoritarianism.
In spite of Putin’s great power, Myers shows there are chinks in his invincibility. Putin’s sly manipulation for re-election after Medvedev’s only term as President fails to quell the desire for freedom of Russian citizens. Just as Watergate exposed the hubris of Nixon, Putin will suffer from the sin of being a flawed human being. Putin, like Nixon, is a great patriot of his country but neither exhibit the inner moral compass that make good leaders great leaders. This is a reminder of today’s American President who is focused on the business of America; not its role as a beacon for freedom and equality of opportunity.
Myers creates a convincing portrait of a man who is subject to the sins of most who rise to power. Putin believes he has become a god among men. He rationalizes his greed by thinking the fate of Russia’s re-ascendance lies in his hands. Even in the days of Stalinist governance, relationship to the leader was the sine ne quo of wealth and power. Putin carries on that tradition. Putin’s friends and associates from the KGB and his tenure in St. Petersburg are critical components of Putin’s control of the economy and government.
Putin is no Tsar but he could have been if education had not advanced society and freedom of expression had not entered the internet age.
(AUTHOR) Indre Viskontas is an Adjunct Professor of Psychology at the University of San Francisco. With a PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience, Viskontas has done research on neuro-degenerative diseases.
Indre Viskontas covers a broad area of knowledge and experience. She offers many counter intuitive insights to human behavior and the brain in several recorded lectures. She explains neuronal and behavioral functions of the brain.
Viskontas explains how and why the brain, though highly complex, and insightful, can be judgmentally weak, misleading, and health adverse. A human brain can provide extraordinary insight to the nature of things and events while maintaining the body’s autonomic system. On the other hand, that same brain can create appalling misinformation about things and events, distort the truth, and cause autonomic failures.
From regions of the brain to basic parts of neurons, Viskontas dissects what is known and unknown about brain function. She ties brain anatomy to our limited knowledge of consciousness and human behavior.
Viskontas explodes the myth of the brain as a perfectly designed organ.
The brain is not perfect. She notes that the brain is a part of an evolutionary cycle. Every cycle of life has the chance of improving or destroying some aspect of the brain’s design. So far, the brain has adequately adapted to its environment, but some functions are inefficient, misdirected, and self-destructive. Brain evolution is a matter of luck and circumstance.
Giant dinosaurs adapted in their generation, but most dinosaur species died because their physical evolution could not keep pace with environmental change. Viskontas notes the human species follows the same evolutionary path.
Luck comes from adaptation to an evolutionary change. Circumstance comes from the environment that compels change. Only time will tell whether environmental change becomes too great for human adaptation.
Viskontas shows the perfect brain is a myth because evolution is an arbitrary and imperfect process. Evolution can produce human gene improvements or replicate destructive gene changes.
Viskontas notes current measurement of intelligence slightly correlates with brain size. But, size matters little.
She notes that Einstein’s brain is found to be average in size. However, it is noted to have some differences; i.e. like the number of glia cells (chemical “information transmission” cells) which were more numerous in Einstein than the average brain. Also, Einstein’s brain had more interconnection between brain segments than the average brain. Bigger is not necessarily better.
Viskontas suggests chemical imbalance as a singular explanation for psychosis is misleading.
The many connections between brain segments suggest chemical imbalance is an oversimplification of psychiatric dysfunction. Viskontas acknowledges the success of drugs to mitigate aberrant behavior but she notes that neurotransmitters affected by a chemical imbalance are only one part of a healthy functioning brain. Chemicals in the brain are always in flux. Drug therapy is a scatter shot solution rather than precise treatment for negative psychological symptoms.
Another often-believed myth is that people who are left-brained are logical; while people who are right-brained are creative.
Viskontas shows that both sides of the brain are activated when creativity or logic are drawn upon. The interconnections and malleability of brain hemispheres suggest logic and creativity come from both hemispheres and can (to a degree) come from one, if the other is damaged.
Viskontas notes that men’s and women’s brains are different.
However, Viskontas concludes similarities far outweigh differences. She notes double-blind experiments that show women have better memories than men when emotion is involved. The region of the brain called the amygdala is larger for men than women. Viskontas suggests the different sizes may account for differences in sexual behavior.
Parenthetically, she notes there is a medication bias in treatment for men and women because most experiments use men as the subject of investigation for drug trials. Women are underrepresented in clinical trials.
Viskontas and other writers have exploded myths of accurate human memory.
Human brains are not movie projectors. Human brains recall memories as stories; not discrete facts. Memories are recreations of what one has experienced (both in the distant past, near past, and present). Facts are often added, and stories are embellished when memories are recalled. The accuracy of memories is highly influenced by an individual’s past and present experience.
Viskontas goes on to explain that life experience creates conscious and sub-conscious bias. When past experience is added to the memory of an event, the brain recalls memory for continuity, more than truth; i.e., facts change, and incidents are misrepresented, or misunderstood. Recalled events are biased by experience.
We have five senses, but they focus on details that meld into a story that makes logical sense to the person recalling a memory.
Viskontas notes that our senses mislead us because we do not see everything. Like historians, we only report the facts we choose to include. There are always more facts about historical events than can be reported by the most diligent historians. Some facts are left out that change the accuracy of history. That is why Ulysses Grant is an incompetent President to some and a great President to others.
Viskontas sites experiments that show neurons continue to grow throughout one’s life if they stay engaged with society and work on learning new things. Those over 50 need to get out of their cars and walk to the store or the local coffee shop whenever possible or practical. Stand more; sit less.
Then there is the myth of old age and neuronal decay that begins after 50. Viskontas sites experiments that show neurons continue to grow throughout one’s life if they stay engaged with society and work on learning new things. An important caveat is that neuronal growth is improved with exercise. So those over 50 need to get out of their cars and walk to the store or the local coffee shop whenever possible or practical. Stand more; sit less.
There are more brain myths exploded by Viskontas, but a final example is the myth that we use only 10% of our brain. All parts of our brain are interconnected. Not all parts are necessarily engaged at once, but interconnections suggests 100% of our brain is used at one time or another.
Viskontas’s knowledge and experience suggest memory holds some truth but not all the truth.
Sean Carroll is a theoretical cosmologist and senior research associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. “The Particle at the End of the Universe”, published in 2012 is focused on the story of Higgs-boson, the widely and incorrectly termed “god particle”. Higgs-bosun is discovered at CERN with the Large Hadron Collider’ experiments done between 2011 and 2013.
The LHC enables scientists to experiment with particle physics at the most minute level in the world; at least, presently possible. The LHC offers a mechanism for proving physics’ theories with experimentation formerly un-available to science. The wonder of the machine is its ability to identify the remains of particles never seen before. It offers the opportunity to see skeletal remains of the elemental particles of life. One presumes many physics theories will be experimentally proven true or false by the LHC. More consequentially, the identification of a Higgs-boson like particle opens a whole new area of science research and theory.
Carroll notes that the LHC is the largest machine in the world with a 17 mile circular tunnel built underground, below several Swiss towns. It was built by the European Organization for Nuclear Research. The LHC is a super cooled vacuum in a tunnel–designed to accelerate protons at near the speed of light for collisions that will reveal the remains of sub-atomic particles. The acceleration is achieved by using giant magnets that accelerate protons trapped in the tunnel. The LHC is in pursuit of the minutest elemental particles of the universe. They are presumably undiscovered because the total energy of known particles does not match the calculated energy of a specific field.
Carroll’s explanations of physics and the momentous importance of Higgs-boson are clear and understandable. Early on, one finds Carroll explaining that particle physics is a misleading category of scientific research. Carroll notes that Higgs-boson is not a particle. It is a field. Further, Carroll notes–all that humankind perceives in the world is made of fields, not particles.
With the advent of experimentally proven quantum mechanics, particle physics is transformed into field physics because of uncertainty. Every particle known to science is on the move. In order for one to view a particle—a proton, neutron, electron, etc., it must be frozen in time, which is not its natural state. Every particle exists within a field, a field in which particles are always in motion; always in one place or another.
Among many insights offered by Carroll, is the fundamental categorization of elemental particles. All particles are broken into two categories. One category is Fermion. The second is Boson. Fermions are elemental particles that are composed of matter.
Bosons are elemental particles that are force fields like magnetism.
Electrons, neutrinos, and quarks are fermions, the matter of the universe. Photons, gluons, W bosons, and Z bosons are forces acting on fermions within fields. These elemental particles are massless. All of these particles would remain massless without the Higgs-boson mechanism (field). The Higgs-boson field creates mass out of massless particles.
A useful analogy reported by Carroll explains how a Higgs-boson field creates mass. Imagine two people walking through a room filled with equally dispersed people. The people-filled’ room is the Higgs-boson field. The two people walking through the room are added massless elemental particles. However, one of the two people is famous. The crowd congregates around the famous person to create a mass of people while the less famous person passes through the room (the field) unnoticed.
Carroll explains the experimental proofs of quantum mechanics are the reason Higgs-boson, or something like it, must exist. That is why its discovery was so important. Higgs-boson is the field in which known particles of the universe gain mass. Higgs-bosun is the famous person that walks into the people-filled’ room. Without Higgs-boson or something that works like Higgs-boson, life (matter and energy) would not exist.
Carroll offers other insights—about symmetry, super-symmetry, and breaking symmetry. He touches on dark matter and string theory. All subjects are interestingly presented.
In general, Carroll crystallizes the importance of theoretical and experimental science.
When listeners finish “The Particle at the End of the Universe, they will understand why Higgs-boson is a magnificent discovery and the LHC is worth its nine-billion-dollar expenditure.
Tech geeks are trending toward rule of the world but humans remain too complicated and diverse for this generation of code makers and breakers to dominate the world.
By Chet Yarbrough
Automate This: How Algorithms Came to Rule Our World
By Christopher Steiner
Narrated by Walter Dixon
CHRISTOPHER STEINER (AUTHOR,NEWSPAPER-MAGAZINE WRITER)
With the subtitle—”How Algorithms Came to Rule Our World”, Christopher Steiner’s Automate This is hyperbolic. Tech geeks are trending toward rule of the world but humans remain too complicated and diverse for this generation of code makers and breakers to dominate the world.
Social and political science have not reached a state of measurement and predictable outcome that reaches Karl Popper’s criteria for science. Popper’s requirement for empirical falsification is not achievable with social and political algorithms because falsification has little relevance. Social and political analysis, even with the use of algorithms, is not science.
Taking Steiner’s word that a Quant predicted some of the Middle East conflicts is not enough evidence to suggest algorithms rule the world.
(Steiner notes that Mubarak’s ouster and Arab Spring were predicted in advance by a Quant.) Steiner also explains how algorithms are used for personality qualification of astronauts. The idea is to profile astronauts to mitigate conflicts between humans in confined quarters during space travel. The profile is to predict potential conflicts and wash out any astronaut candidate that might mutiny during a long voyage.
Profiling is not new. It is a technique used by branches of the military, and by many governments, and corporations. Certainly, it is more comprehensively done today with computers but a high degree of error remains.
Steiner’s anecdotes of chess players, astronaut conflicts, and poker game predictions using algorithms suggests promise, but algorithm use remains a far cry from ruling the world.
Steiner’s history of algorithm growth is a cautionary tale. At one extreme, there is a vision of a brave new world where privacy is impossible and human manipulation inevitable. At the other extreme, is Ray Kurzweil’s singularity where genetically enhanced humans gain algorithmic capability through a meld of humans and robots.
Steiner offers examples of algorithms that have enhanced good and bad behavior in humans. Algorithms have improved customer service for aggrieved consumers by customizing responses for defective products and services. When an automated voice receives a customer’s complaint, an algorithm analyzes the nature (words and demeanor) of the customer’s aggravation and forwards a customer’s call to a person that can help resolve the complaint.
QUANTS–COMPUTER TECHNICIANS WHO CREATED MORTGAGE BACKED DERIVATIVES. With the advent of computer technology, the added assets in derivative instruments became so complex that individual human judgement of value is clouded.
The 2007-2008 financial crash is caused by financial derivatives designed by Quants using algorithms that multiplied the effect of human greed; i.e. millions of people were financially destroyed by unregulated financial securities, created by financial analyst’ algorithms.
Of particular interest is Steiner’s explanation of algorithm impact on jobs. Like the industrial revolution, the world’s work force will dramatically change with continued automation.
More product production will be automated through algorithms that manipulate machines to do the work formerly done by humans. Steiner believes primary growth industries will be ruled by technology. No jobs will be unaffected by algorithms.
Steiner notes that even medical services for common colds and routine visits will be served by algorithmic analysis and drug prescription services. Code hackers will be offered great job opportunities. Call centers will become bigger employers but even those jobs will be increasingly handled by algorithms that minimize employee involvement.
MANUFACTURING JOBS WILL CHANGE
A conclusion one may draw from Steiner’s book is that middle managers of call centers, sales people for algorithmic products, teachers, personal service providers, and organization executives will be in demand but many traditional labor positions will disappear.
Steiner’s book is a recruitment tool for today’s and tomorrow’s code hackers. That is where new jobs will be created. Steiner suggests that young and future populations should plan to acquire basic math skills, learn code, and plan for a future of automation and exploration.
Physics for Future Presidents: The Science Behind the Headlines
By Richard A. Muller
Narrated by Peter Larkin
“Physics for Future Presidents” suggests understanding of practical physics is critical for future Presidents. Richard Muller’s argument is that Presidents need to know some physics to comprehend the utility of everything from energy, to manned space flight, to satellite surveillance, to terrorist use of nuclear bombs. Muller is not arguing that future Presidents need to understand the science of physics but the practical limitations of manned space flight, carbon-based energy, satellite intelligence, and weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
Muller begins his book with the modern world’s effort to understand and contain terrorism. Muller’s book seems apropos based on President Trump’s effort to limit science research, discount CIA and FBI intelligence, and denuclearize North Korea.
Muller explores the possibility of a terrorist organization building a nuclear bomb and detonating it in the middle of an American City. He looks at the possibility from three perspectives. One, difficulty in acquiring fissionable material; two, difficulty of building a nuclear device and three, difficulty in delivering a weapon of mass destruction to a desired location.
Surprisingly, Miller suggests a greater danger is terrorist attack by private planes, loaded with highly flammable fuel. Or, for a terrorist organization to use chemical and biological agents that directly or indirectly infect population centers.
Miller believes practical physics will determine the next world terrorist attack. Miller argues that the simplest plan will have the greatest impact. (Of course, there is also the implied psychology of terrorism.) Muller reasons a future terrorist attack (with 1000s killed) will be like 9/11, but with a private plane filled with fuel (not a nuclear bomb) flown into a major entertainment event.
There are a number of counter-intuitive insights in “Physics for Future Presidents”. Muller believes manned space flight is a waste of money. He argues that most of the greatest innovations in science have come from unmanned space flight. Weather satellites, spy satellites, entertainment satellites, global positioning satellites, drones, exploration of planets and the solar system have all come from unmanned space flight. Muller believes there is a time for manned space flight but not now. It is too dangerous and produces little new-science. He implies America should primarily invest in unmanned space flight.
Richard Muller, at times, seems to stand at the side of fictional character Dr. Strangelove. He describes historical information about radiation poisoning from nuclear bombs and accidents. Muller notes that statistical deaths from war (the Nagasaki and Hiroshima bombing), Three Mile Island, and Chernobyl show that deaths from nuclear radiation is small in comparison to terrorist events initiated by simple, practical, and conventional physics.
Muller argues that nuclear power can be used as a fail-safe source of energy by using the latest technology for nuclear power plants. The latest technology (actually first used in the 1960s by Germany) is a pebble bed reactor (PBR). It is considered safe because it does not rely on water cooling of the nuclear core in the event of an accident.
This is unlikely to be a popular book in Las Vegas, Nevada. Among other controversial subjects, Richard Muller believes Yucca Mountain is an adequately safe repository for nuclear waste that should be reopened. His argument largely rests on the science of probability. Muller infers that natural radiation in Colorado is as toxic as the probability of radiation leaks from stored nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain.
Muller argues that revision of nuclear construction standards in the United States would make construction of pebble bed reactors less expensive than conventional American nuclear facilities. The added benefit is a safer energy source that reduces the need for carbon based energy supplies that increase global warming. A large part of Muller’s argument for the use of more nuclear power is based on the generally accepted scientific belief that global warming exists and is most likely caused by human activity.
Muller spends a great deal of time explaining that global warming is not a 100% certainty but, in probability terms, is highly likely and largely related to carbon-based energy use. He notes that use of carbon-based energy is likely to increase with China and India’s continued economic growth. Muller creates a sense of urgency in creating other sources of energy. He strongly urges increasing motor vehicle mileage requirements but questions the viability of battery operated vehicles. Muller believes the costs of battery replacement will drive consumers back to carbon-based energy models.
Muller sees potential in solar and wind energy production but believes conservation will do more short-term good than any new source of energy. He clearly sees that the cost of energy is the primary driver of technological innovation. As long as oil and coal are less expensive than other sources of energy, they will remain the primary source of power. With that realization, Muller insists on technological innovation in conservation because it motivates the consumer to become a part of the energy-crises’. Consumer’ participation is guaranteed by savings received from use of more energy-efficient devices.
The key to the world’s future is energy. Muller believes the short-term solution is conservation. He believes long-term solution revolves around nuclear fission and fusion. Fusion is a longer term prospect but offers an infinite source of energy. Fission is shown to work now, with probabilities of failure that can be improved upon.
This circles back to the critical importance of storing nuclear waste. Muller notes that the fragmented system of nuclear storage in the United States is a bigger risk to the environment than having it located in a limited number of specifically designed storage locations. Yucca Mountain fits Muller’s criteria for safe storage of nuclear waste. He acknowledges that nuclear accidents may occur but the probability of an accident at Yucca Mountain is less than the probability of accident at other relatively unsecured and fragmented sites.
The physics that Muller insists Presidents must understand is that scientific proof is a matter of probability; not absolute certainty. Muller warns Presidents to not be misled by cherry-picking fact finders that have objectives that are not related to practical physics. Even if there is no certainty in science, knowing probabilities offer a basis for informed decision.
NICHOLAS G. CARR (AMERICAN WRITER-FORMER EDITOR OF HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW)
The Glass Cage, written by Harvard alumnus Nicholas Carr, ironically places him in the shoes of an uneducated English textile artisan of the 19th century, known as a Luddite.
Luddites protested against the industrial revolution because machines were replacing jobs formerly done by laborers. Just as the Luddites fomented arguments against mechanization, Carr argues automation creates unemployment and diminishes craftsmanship.
WORKMEN TAKE OUT THEIR ANGER ON MACHINES DURING THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION. (Just as the Luddites fomented arguments against mechanization, Carr argues automation creates unemployment and diminishes craftsmanship.)
Carr carries the Luddite argument a step further by inferring a mind’s full potential may only be achieved through a conjunction of mental and physical labor. Carr posits the loss of physical ability to make and do things diminishes civilization by making humans too dependent on automation.
There is no question that employment was lost in the industrial revolution; just as it is in the automation age, but jobs have been and will continue to be created as the world adjusts to this new stage of productivity.
Unquestionably, the advent of automation is traumatic but elimination of repetitive industrial labor by automation is as much a benefit to civilization as the industrial revolution was to low wage workers spinning textile.
The Covid19 pandemic of 2020 will accelerate world’ transition to automation. Though this book is written earlier than the pandemic’s economic consequence, corporations are reevaluating the necessity for office buildings to conduct their business. More and more employees will work from home.
Employment adjustment is traumatic. The trauma of this age is that work with one’s hands is being replaced by work with one’s brain. The education of the world needs to catch up with socio-economic change; just as labor did in the 20th century. To suggest humans do not learn when they cannot fly a plane, build a house, or construct an automobile with their own hands is a specious argument.
Houses and cars have not been built by one person since humans lived in caves and iron horses replaced carriage horses. Houses and cars were built by teams of people who worked with their hands but only on specific tasks. Those teams of people were managed by knowledge workers.
Education and service to society are the keys to the transition from industrialization to automation.
Automation of tasks reduces the mind numbing, low pay work of laborers. Automation turns manual labor into the development and education of people who design hardware and software to execute tasks that result in more safely flown planes, new houses, new cars, new refrigerators, so on and so on.
Carr suggests that airplane pilots should be given more control over automated planes they fly despite the facts he quotes that clearly show plane crashes kill fewer people today than ever in history. They are bigger, faster, and more complicated to fly. The argument that pilots need to learn how to fly a jumbo jet when automation fails is like telling a farmer to pull out his scythe to harvest the wheat because the thresher quit working.
Carr’s argument is that pilots have forgotten how to fly because automation replaced their skill set. To state the obvious, planes are not what they were 100 or even 10 years ago.
One might argue that Boeing’s 737 Max mistakes are evidence that Carr is correct in suggesting planes have become too complicated, but it ignores the reality of mistakes have always being made by humans. Humans are preternaturally motivated by self-interest.
Boeing’s leaders made mistakes in not fully analyzing and disclosing risks of 737 changes, and in not adequately training airline pilots on the safety features of the plane.
Carr raises a morality argument for not saving life when an automated machine makes a decision rather than a human being. One can suggest an example of how an automated machine is more likely to make the right decision than a human.
For example, presume a driver-less car is programmed to save its occupant when an injured bicyclist is laying in the street around a blind curve. A fast moving automated car with a family inside, with mountain cliffs on both sides of the road, will drive over the bicyclist without conscience. The bicyclist is dead but the car passengers are alive. If the car is driven by a person, both the cyclist and the family are likely dead.
Without doubt, many automation errors (e.g. the 737 Max) have been and will be made in the future, but to suggest automation is not good for society is as false as the Luddites arguments about industrialization.
This period of the world’s adjustment is horrendously disruptive. It is personal to every parent or person that cannot feed, clothe, and house their family or themselves because they have no job.
Decrying the advance of automation is not the answer. Making the right political decisions about how to help people make job transitions is what will advance civilization.
The Island of Knowledge: The Limits of Science and the Search for Meaning
Written by: Marcelo Gleiser
Narration by: William Neenan
MARCELO GLEISER (AUTHOR, BRAZILIAN PHYSICIST AND ASTRONOMER, PHYSICS AND ASTRONOMY PROFESSOR AT DARTMOUTH)
Marcelo Gleiser believes an A.I. singularity predicted by Ray Kurzweil is a myth of science that will be stranded on “The Island of Knowledge”. His point is that the nature of science, human cognition, and quantum physics make computers incapable of superseding or equaling human intelligence. The horizon of the unknown will always be present for human beings, even with computational advances. Gleiser implies that the computer will only be a tool of humankind to explore the unknown.
Gleiser notes the nature of science is to explain natural phenomena. Sciences’ explanations create an island of knowledge that is like Plato’s Socratic cave; i.e. a cave for humanity that only reveals shadows of reality.
PLATO’S CAVE (Gleiser suggests Sciences’ explanations create an island of knowledge that is like Plato’s Socratic cave; i.e. a cave for humanity that only reveals shadows of reality.
Human beings cannot leave the cave because every scientific discovery only leads to another question about shadows that represent the real thing. Gleiser prepares one for that conclusion by recounting the history of great scientists like Isaac Newton, James Maxwell, Max Planck, Earnest Rutherford, Albert Einstein, Edwin Schrodinger, Werner Heisenberg, Paul Dirac, and others. Each of these scientists contributes to “The Island of Knowledge” but each raises more questions about phenomena that remain shadows of nature’s reality.
Gleiser acknowledges that Newton and Einstein sharpen shadowy outlines of nature’s reality but each fails to discover absolute truth. Newton misses the fundamental truth of time. Einstein misses the truth of quantum physics. Newton’s time is relative and Einstein’s presumed certainties are probabilities.
SIR ISAAC NEWTON (1642-1727)
ALBERT EINSTEIN (1879-1955)
Gleiser argues that human cognition is limited by “The Island of Knowledge” because cognition is influenced by the mind’s senses. For example, history is reported with facts that are selected by the historian. The facts may be accurate but not all facts of the past are reported and thereby history becomes a shadow of the truth.
In science, experiments do not prove truth; i.e. experiments only eliminate false positives, leaving only another experiment to disprove another presumed truth. Experiments theoretically get one closer to a truth but the truth remains a shadow because the new truth has to be explored by further experiment. As Karl Popper notes: “In so far as a scientific statement speaks about reality, it must be falsifiable; and in so far as it is not falsifiable, it does not speak about reality.”
KARL POPPER (1902-1994) Popper suggests there are no verifiable truths; only probabilities. If so, A.I. (at least) has the potential for improving the odds of factual truth.
Gleiser implies the idea of a Turing Computer that can know the origin of life is as specious as belief in the myth of the Holy Grail. Gleiser explains that artificial intelligence will never supersede or equal human intelligence because natural phenomena are found to be probabilistic and not defined by yes and no, or ones and zeros. Artificial Intelligence is a misnomer.
Finally, Gleiser suggests artificial intelligence will never supersede or equal human intelligence because natural phenomena are found to be probabilistic and not defined by yes and no, or ones and zeros. Artificial Intelligence is a misnomer in Gleiser’s opinion.
AI is a man-made construct, subject to “The Island of Knowledge” created by human beings. Gleiser argues there are serious dangers in expansion of AI because it reduces complexity to yes and no answers. One wonders if Gleiser takes into consideration experiments being conducted with quantum computing. These experiments are meant to create a neural network that emulates human consciousness but with improved probabilistic calculations.
Gleiser’s implication is that a computer that programs itself becomes a Frankenstein; not a sentient being. He argues that A.I. creations are likely to disrupt, if not destroy, human life. He believes A.I. will always be based on shadows of unverifiable truths.
Gleiser implies the idea of a Turing Computer that can know the origin of life is as specious as belief in the myth of the Holy Grail. He may be right. Although, Popper suggests there are no verifiable truths; only probabilities. The Holy Grail is a myth because nothing can ever be absolutly proven. If so, A.I. seems to have the potential of improving the odds of factual truth.
Gleiser touches on the mysteries of “spooky action at a distance” which challenges Einstein’s dictum that nothing exceeds the speed of light. Gleiser recounts experiments that prove “spooky action at a distance” are real.
Experiments with “spooky action at a distance” open a new field of inquiry. This and “string theory” are examples of challenges to belief that human beings will ever have a theory of everything. A.I. seems a credible tool for further experimentation. whether it is a “Frankenstein” or not.
Gleiser believes “The Island of Knowledge” is as close as humanity will ever get to a theory of everything and it will always be a shadow of nature’s truth. Karl Popper would agree. Gleiser is saying pursuit of truth is important but precise truth is unattainable. He argues that a final truth will never be found because discoveries of science will only lead to more questions, more experiments, and better tools of measurement. Nature’s truth will always be beyond human understanding; i.e. at best, nature’s truth will only be shadows of reality with sharper outlines. Humanity may not be capable of escaping the cave to discover the truth of life.
Gleiser is quick to point out that his concept of the human island of knowledge is not meant to discourage scientific exploration. He believes human beings have an innate desire to understand nature. Life experience suggests wanting to understand nature is true of all cultures because humanity desires immortality.
Humans want to think of themselves as the center of the universe; as false as that may be.