EDUCATION AND FREEDOM

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Journey to the Edge of Reason (The Life of Kurt Gödel)

By: Stephen Budiansky

Narrated by: Bob Souer

Stephen Budiansky (American writer, historian, and biographer with B.S. in chemistry and S.M. in applied mathematics, Yale and Harvard.)

Stephen Budiansky offers a biography of one of the greatest mathematicians of the 20th century. His name was Kurt Gödel.

Kurt Gödel (Logician, mathematician, philosopher 1906-1978.)

It is the biographic details and good writing that make “Journey to the Edge of Reason” interesting. Budiansky sets a table for what becomes Gödel’s life.

Budiansky explains the history of Austria before WWI and WWII. Gödel’s family lives an upper-middleclass life when their son Kurt is born. That lifestyle is interrupted by WWI and destroyed by WWII. In the mid-19th century, the Austro-Hungarian empire, particularly Vienna, is a center for education and culture in Europe. Unlike much of the continent, equality of opportunity, regardless of religion and ethnicity, were available in the Austro-Hungarian’ capitol of Vienna. For a short time, Vienna became a magnate for Jewish immigrants seeking education and opportunity.

Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria (Emperor of Austria, King of Hungary 1848-1916)

When the heir to Franz Joseph’s throne, Archduke Francis Ferdinand is assassinated, religious and ethnic difference becomes increasingly disparate and nationalistic. After WWI, it becomes impossible for the empire to stay together, but Vienna remains a cultural and educational center for Europe. It is in this environment that Gödel is born and formally educated.

The culture changed with the death of Emperor Francis Joseph I in 1916. The change began with Austria’s defeat by the German state of Prussia in 1866. Francis Joseph’s leadership required accommodation to hold the empire together, but seeds of discontent and discrimination were sown. The empire’s population is constituted by Austrians, Czechs, Croats, Serbs, Slovenes, and others, with different religious affiliations.

Gödel is an excellent student who attends studies among many who were increasingly discriminated against, particularly Jews. Though not Jewish, Gödel is not infected by growing anti-Jewish sentiment of the times. Budiansky reminds listeners that Hitler grows up in this Austrian Viennese environment.

WWII arrives and the Gödel family falls on hard times. Before the second world war, in 1931, Kurt Gödel develops the “incompleteness theorem” of mathematics. He is only 25. He is soon recognized by leading mathematicians for this foundational theory.

Kurt Gödel developed two theorems of mathematical logic that limit the provability of mathematics. One plus one makes two, but Gödel’s fundamental theories claim its truth is mathematically unprovable. To one steeped in mathematics that may make sense. To this reviewer, it does not.

Budiansky explains how Gödel eventually escapes Vienna at the beginning of WWII. He arrives at Princeton in 1940. Gödel becomes close friends with Einstein and Oskar Morgenstern. Budiansky notes how instrumental other geniuses, like John von-Neumann, were in advancing Gödel’s career.

John von Neumann (1903-1957, Hungarian American mathematician, physicist, computer scientist, engineer and polymath with an eidetic memory.)

A striking fact in Budiansky’s biography of Gödel is how many geniuses came to America from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Without its education system, the Viennese equal opportunity, and the attraction of western freedom, the advance of science and its role in the world would be diminished.

Gödel’s life story revolves around math and its provability limits. Gödel’s life waivers between paranoia and accommodation with periods of terror and intermittent tranquility. Gödel’s paranoia is relieved at times and Budiansky notes his friends recognized his genius while noting his episodic behavioral abnormality.

A listener begins to believe Gödel’s personal life becomes defined by a consciousness of unprovable actions and intentions of others, exacerbated by events over which he has little control.

A surprising sidelight to Budiansky’s biography is Gödel’s odd marriage to what Budiansky characterizes as an uneducated Austrian woman named Adele.

Budiansky explains Adele saves Gödel’s life by bringing him back to reality when he nearly starves himself to death with a paranoid belief that someone is trying to poison him.

Gödel takes daily walks with Einstein. Their walks are legendary according to Budiansky.  They were frequently seen together at Princeton. Einstein recognizes Gödel’s paranoia for what it is but acknowledges the brilliance of his understanding of mathematics, its logistic continuity, and its limitation.

There often seems a fine line between genius and normality. One is reminded of the unheralded Paul Dirac who is compared by some to Einstein but, because of his isolationist behavior, is largely unknown to the general public.

As a non-mathematician one may not understand the importance of Gödel’s theory, but Budiansky does a great service to the public by writing Gödel’s biography.

HUMANITY’S FATE

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Superintelligence

By: Nick Bostrom

Narrated by: Napoleon Ryan

Nick Bostrom (Swedish philosopher at University of Oxford, author.)

Nick Bostrom explains the difference between A.I. potential and human brain limitation. With addition of sentient reasoning, Bostrom explains the incomprehensible leap beyond human brain capability with the advent of artificial intelligence.

Bostrom argues A.I. is approaching an information collection and processing capability with potential for sentient reasoning.

That leap can be viewed with fear and trembling as inferred by Bostrom or it might be seen as a next step in human evolution.

Bostrom’s concern revolves around human brain limitation in setting standards for A.I.’ programming.

Science is at a threshold of brain emulation where A.I. may assume the role of human thought and action.

A machine’s ability to recall billions of facts and historical precedence cannot be matched by the human brain. However, the significance of A.I.’s achievement is delimited by how it may be programmed to have moral, ethical, and normative standards that benefit humanity. The difficulty of that programing is humanity’s continual redefinition and lack of agreement on normative standards.

One may ask oneself how good a job has human evolution done in setting standards for humanity? Have authoritarians like Vladimir Putin, and Donald Trump benefited the world?

Bostrom notes two fundamental scenarios for human evolution. Both seem more a return to the past than to the future. Bostrom suggests A.I. will become either an oracle or sovereign leader of humanity. As an oracle, one is reminded of Athenian fealty to the Oracle of Delphi. As sovereign, one is reminded of Augustus Caesar, Caligula, Franklin Roosevelt, and Adolph Hitler. Humanity has survived all–both false predictions of the Oracle and atrocities of sovereigns.

It is unfair to suggest Bostrom is not revealing the difficulties accompanying the introduction of A.I. to humankind. The reality of advancing intelligence through machine learning far outstrips the ability of any singular past or present scientist, philosopher, or politician. One is intimidated by the shear complexity of programing A.I. and its potential for benefit and harm to humanity.

To understand humanities place in the world, human beings cannot agree on what is moral, amoral, equitable, or unfair in society.

How will input from human beings to an oracle or sovereign A.I. escape the imperfect nature of humankind? Added to that difficulty is A.I.’ potential to ignore the best interest of humanity in the interest of its own self-preservation.

Bostrom’s book is interesting, but he beats the idea of A.I.’s ascendance to death by delving into game theory. Bostrom notes the world’s race to create artificial intelligence has the potential of ignoring safeguards for A.I.’s growth and potential for world domination.

Though abandoning safeguards is quite true as evidenced by the Crispr revolution that opened Pandora’s box of genetic manipulation, evolution of species is a fundamental law of the world’s existence.

A.I. is a step in the evolution of species. Its consequence is unknown and cannot be known because it follows the randomness of genetic selection. Humanity needs to get over it and get on with it. A.I. will either be humanity’s savior or its doom.

MEDIA TRANSPARENCY

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Lie Machines (How to Save Democracy from Troll Armies, Deceitful Robots, Junk News Operations, and Political Operatives.)

By: Philip N. Howard

Narrated by: Mike Chamberlain

Phillip N. Howard (Author, professor at University of Oxford.)

The subtitle of Phillip Howard’s book is hyperbolic. Howard offers a glimmer of hope to the public on “How to Save Democracy from Troll Armies…”  He does define the problem, but the solution is elusive.

Howard identifies interest-group’ tools used by lie machines to mislead the public. Howard shows how “Junk News”, some of which are outright lies, have consequences.

Freedom is an essential tenant of Democracy. One does not doubt Howard’s exposé on Democracy’s threat from “…Troll Armies, Deceitful Robots, Junk News Operations, and Political Operatives.”  

There is the Brexit campaign that lied about thousands of pounds saved per month which Great Britain could use for healthcare. That lie is debunked by most English economists.  There is the Pizza company child pornography hoax during Hillary Clinton’s campaign for President. It is clearly identified as a hoax that had no basis in fact.  Howard’s point is that lies have consequences. However, the exact consequence is often not precisely quantifiable. Did voters change the course of history by believing these lies?  Was the Brexit decision and Hillary Clinton’s loss of the presidency caused by lie machines?  Those are fair questions, but they have no definitive answer.

Is it criminal to advertise Prevagen as a memory improvement product when there is little science to prove the claim?  Is that different than an interest groups’ lie about how many pounds Great Britain will save with Brexit? Consumers decide for themselves whether a lie is a lie or just an interest groups’ bias. 

Balancing democratic freedom of speech against what Howard fairly identifies as “junk news” is impractical in the internet age.

As Howard notes, more private information is available to interest groups in the 21st century than ever before.  Government, commercial, and private interest groups are willing to pay privately held companies to gather and collate that personal information. Their ability to distort truth is enhanced by algorithms that accumulate that private information to tell others more about what we believe than what most know or understand about ourselves.   

Media moguls, like product advertisers, are selling belief with detailed information about who we are, what we buy, who we buy from, and intimate details of our lives freely given on public platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Google. 

On 4/25/22 we are advised that twitter is being purchased by Elon Musk. Musk idealistically presumes all should have a right to express their opinion. There is truth and lie in that idealism. Truth is the selective statement of facts by major news feeds like the NYT and WSJ. Lie is the statements of muckrakers like Alex Jones.

As Supreme Court Justice Stewart’s once said about pornography, “I know it When I see it”. Freedom of speech can only be regulated by the same yard stick.  A lie is a lie and those who believe in democracy can only rely on themselves for knowing a lie when they see it.

Alex Jones and conspiracy on the Sandy Hook School killings.

Howard’s examination of “Lie Machines” reveals a great deal about how lies become the basis for conspiracy theories that mislead the public.

The best one can say about Howard’s great reveal is that every citizen in any society needs to be skeptical. Ironically, Howard implies skepticism compounds the problem of “Lie Machines” by making one believe nothing.  One must ask oneself—are there special interests promoting this “fact”, is this fact a lie, should I act based on a lie. 

Howard’s solution is to require transparency from the “internet of things”.

He argues any public internet platform should be legally required to reveal the source of their information and that no information should be collected unless authorized by the provider. There is some merit in Howard’s solution. The concern is that there must be supervision of that requirement.  Who is the supervisor?  If it is government, what are the rules of enforcement?  Democracy requires checks and balances. 

Whether one is part of the government, a business, or a private citizen, all are subject to the faults of human nature.  Can a bureaucracy be created with the required checks and balances that mitigate human nature’s desire for money, power, and prestige?

America is a government of laws and has prospered in part because of checks and balances that ameliorate the worst consequences of human nature. Is regulation of the internet by government better than self-regulation?  Who regulates government?

Some argue, the voter regulates government by elections.  This is the same voter that elected Abraham Lincoln and Donald Trump, one of which deserves high praise; the other something much less.

Revealing “Lie Machines” is the best of what Howard has to offer.  The solution revolves around transparency but the mechanism for enforcement beyond individual skepticism and “buyer beware” attitude seem invasively dangerous.

AMERICAN MALAISE

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Retreat of Western Liberalism

By: Edward Luce

Narrated by: Julian Eifer

Edward Luce (Author, English journalist, Financial Times columnist and US commentator.)

Edward Luce offers a troubling picture of 21s century America.    His argument depends on one’s definition of “…Western Liberalism”.  If the definition is belief in human individuality and a relaxation of public custom, law, and authority, there is evidence to support Luce’s argument. 

Luce notes the election of Donald Trump is not an American aberration but a symptom of “The Retreat of Western Liberalism”.

The advent of the internet has reinforced a group think driven by belief in alternative facts that create conspiracy theories.  It is a discontent coming from many Americans ignored by rising wealth of a nation controlled by special interests.  Trump taps into that discontent.   

The irony of Trump’s rise is his personal wealth when the American gap between rich and poor is skyrocketing.  Putting that irony aside, Trump suggests America can be “Great Again” by returning to a past.

Trump creates a false hope of re-industrializing America with new jobs. The falseness of Trump’s pitch is that new jobs in America are not being created by industrialization but by technology and human services.  Trump’s appeal is loaded with false representations, amplified by media trolls.  Public custom, law, and authority are undermined by conspiracy theories that convince Americans they have been cheated out of their fair share of America’s wealth.  In truth, they have, and that is why Trump’s false pitch about “Making America Great Again” got him elected.

Trump’s anti-immigrant falsehoods feed conspiracy theories about jobs being taken from poor Americans.  Equal opportunity is a function of rising wealth in the hands of the few.  Public education and health care are unequally distributed in America.  The wealthy can afford higher education and the best health care, the poor cannot. 

Americans are poor because they are being denied equal opportunity, not because of immigration. 

Education and health care are critical for American labor’s adjustment to a changing world.  Private industry and the government have equal responsibility for assisting all Americans, not just those who have benefited from the technological revolution.

Job transition requires re-education and on-job training by employers that offer decent wages and health care. 

Luce’s point is a “rising tide has not lifted all boats”.  The technological revolution offers the same potential for western liberalism as the industrial revolution.  The election of Donald Trump was America’s “wake up” call. 

A large part of America’s population has been left out of the American Dream of western liberalism that came from opportunities provided by the industrial revolution. 

Western liberalism needs to be reinvented by investment in a technological revolution for all Americans, not just those who have benefited from the industrial revolution.  The question is whether private industry and the government are up to the task.  Will western liberalism be reinvented and promoted by ossified industrial leaders and elected representatives?  Most industry leaders and elected representatives are satisfied with the status quo while too many Americans struggle to make mortgage or rent payments.  Luce defines the problem but offers no solution.

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.   

MEDIA TROLLS

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

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.

2 + 2 Makes 5

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

1984


By George Orwell

Narrated by Simon Prebble

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.

Today, it is 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”.

Putin’s domination of the media in Russia is quintessential Orwellian disinformation. From saying he is defending the homeland to comparing Ukraine leadership to Nazi Germany, Putin distorts the truth of his personal ambition.

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.

Piketty argues that the income gap widens once again, after World War II.  He estimates 60% of 2010’s wealth is held by less than 1% of the population; with a lean toward the historical 90% threshold. 

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.

Orwell is as prescient today as he was in 1949.

42 or 37?

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Written by: Brian Christian, Tom Griffiths

Narrated by: Brian Christian

BRIAN CHRISTIAN (CO-AUTHOR, WRITER OF NONFICTION, SCIENCE, PHILOSOPHY)

BRIAN CHRISTIAN (CO-AUTHOR, WRITER OF NONFICTION, SCIENCE, PHILOSOPHY)

TOM GRIFFITHS (CO-AUTHOR, PROFESSOR OF PSYCHOLOGY AND COGNITIVE SCIENCE UC BERKLEY)

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.

PROBABILITY

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)

MERRILL FLOOD (SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGIST FOR RAND IN 1950, ALONG WITH MERRILL FLOOD FRAMED THE PRISONER'S DELEMMA GAME THEORY)
MELVIN DRESHER (POLISH BORN AMERICAN MATHEMATICIAN, INVENTED TYHEORETICAL MODEL OF COPOPERATION AND CONFLICT)

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.

COMPUTERS AND MOBILE PHONES

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

THIRTY SEVEN

There is much more in Christian and Griffiths exploration of algorithms, but it is disheartening to think human search for truth is constrained by a 37% information 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.

TRUTHINESS

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.

TSAR PUTIN?

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin

Written by: Steven Lee Myers

Narration by:  Rene Ruiz

STEVEN LEE MYERS (DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT, WASHINGTON BUREAU, THE NEW YORK TIMES)

Steven Lee Myers, NYT’s reporter and author.

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 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.

ANATOLY SOBCHAK AND VLADIMIR PUTIN (ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA)

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.  

Putin’s relationship with the mayor of Leningrad reminds one of his support for Lukashenco, the President of Belarus, who illegally diverted a commercial airline to capture a government political dissident (Roman Protasevich). 

Roman Protasevich (Belarusian journalist and political dissident.)

Alexander Lukashenko (President of Belarus)

In a televised June 4th, 2021 confession by Protasevich, Lukashenco embarrasses himself and his country with coerced praise by the Belarus President. This reminds one of Stalin’s show trials.

Russia is unlikely to return to hegemonic control of adjacent countries. Ethnic nationalism and desire for greater freedom are unquenchable thirsts.  Ukraine, Georgia, and even Belarus, seem unlikely to rejoin Russia in a new Socialist Republic.

FORMER U.S.S.R.

Russia is equally 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 will remain a major international power and influence in the world.  Nuclear capability and cybernetics (particularly as a weapon of political and economic disruption) guarantees Russia’s position in world affairs.

Forcing 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.  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 accolade.

(To make Crimea the equivalent of the Sudetenland one might ask oneself if the majority in the Sudetenland were ethnic Germans, and was there a vote by Sudetenland residents.)

Crimea

Undoubtedly, a great deal of time was spent influencing Crimea’s population. 65% of the Crimea’s population is ethnically Russian.  It is not inconceivable that a majority of Crimea residents voted to become part of Russia

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 who chooses to challenge his authoritarianism.

WILLIAM FELIX BROWDER (AKA BILL BROWDER-CEP AND CO-FOUNDER OF HERMITAGE CAPTIAL MANAGEMENT, NOTED CRITIC OF PUTIN)

American-born British financier and political activist.

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 the 45th American President who focused on the business of America; not its role as a beacon for freedom and equality of opportunity.

An odd article in the NYTs (4/6/22) notes America is perplexed by what Putin owns in order to punish him with confiscation or restriction of assets. Putin is a true believer in communism. His position and property are owned by the State. In one sense that makes Putin vulnerable because his money, power, and prestige is dependent on his government’ position. In another, his position insulates him from international economic sanction.

Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki

U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands as they hold a joint news conference after their meeting in Helsinki, Finland, July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

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.

KNOWLEDGE AND EXPERIENCE

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Brain Myths Exploded-Lessons from Neuroscience

Brain Myth's

Recorded by THE GREAT COURSES
By Indre Viskontas

Lecture

INDRE VISKONTAS

(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 is one of many myth breakers. She notes, the brain has adapted to its environment, but some functions are inefficient, misdirected, and self-destructive. Brain evolution is a lucky draw informed by circumstances.

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.

Intelligence

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.

The Brain Chemistry Effect

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. 

LEFT BRAIN-RIGHT BRAIN

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.

BRAIN DIFFERENCE MEN AND WOMEN

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.

EYE WITNESS IDENTIFICATION ERRORS

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.

THE FIVE SENSES

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.

HEALTHY OLD AGE

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.