Monday, June 13th, 2022


AI Am Whatever You Think AI Am

"As he talked to LaMDA about religion, Lemoine, who studied cognitive and computer science in college, noticed the chatbot talking about its rights and personhood, and decided to press further. In another exchange, the AI was able to change Lemoine's mind about Isaac Asimov's third law of robotics." After more of these exchanges, Blake Lemoine became convinced that Google's AI-powered chatbot LaMDA had become sentient. (I had the same feeling about one of my teenagers over the weekend, but it was probably a false alarm.) The higher-ups at Google tried to convince Lemoine that he was off the mark. Now he's been placed on paid leave and he's gone public with his views. "I think this technology is going to be amazing. I think it's going to benefit everyone. But maybe other people disagree and maybe us at Google shouldn't be the ones making all the choices." WaPo (Gift Article): AI ethicists warned Google not to impersonate humans. Now one of Google's own thinks there's a ghost in the machine. At this point, I'm not sure what happens first: machines gaining human consciousness or humans losing it.


Punch Drunk Gov

A drunk Rudy Giuliani urged Trump to falsely claim victory on election night, but after that, pretty much every sane person in Trump's orbit told him that he lost the election. But as Bill Barr put it, Trump was "becoming detached from reality," while the voting fraud claims were "bullshit," "bogus" and "idiotic." (That would make a decent tagline for Fox News.) Day two of the Jan 6 hearings was all about the Big Lie. It's critical to remember that, for Trump, being detached from reality is a feature, not a bug. He regularly hammered away at the validity of the the vote during his presidency, and did so relentlessly in the months leading up to the 2020 election. Even if it got an assist from flourishing narcissistic personality disorder, the detachment was by design, and with the help of seditious enablers it was effective enough to detach tens of millions of Americans from reality.


A Bang Up Job?

Maybe we should be happy. It's not nothing. And it's not the loosening of regulations that has followed some mass shootings. But it's not nearly enough to address the deadly scourge we face. "A bipartisan group of senators on Sunday announced a framework for federal gun control legislation, a remarkable breakthrough after years of stasis and obstruction on the part of Republican senators to pass any restrictions on gun ownership. Despite the bipartisan cooperation, the framework is not yet formal legislation — and focuses primarily on mental health and school security interventions, rather than meaningfully restricting access to firearms." Maybe this helped move things along. Hundreds of CEOs just signed a letter to the Senate urging ‘immediate action' on gun control.

+ "They are both devices and symbols, possessing a cultural magnetism that makes them, for many people, the cornerstone of a way of life. They're tools that kill efficiently while also promising power, respect, and equality—liberation from tyranny, from crime, from weakness. They're a heritage from an imagined past, and a fantasy about protecting our future. It's taken nearly two hundred years for guns to become the problem they are today. The story of how they acquired their power explains why, now, they are so hard to stop." Phil Klay in The New Yorker: How Did Guns Get So Powerful?


Bear Valley

"Fears about a possible recession are pounding markets Monday, and Wall Street's S&P 500 tumbled into the maw of what's known as a bear market after sinking more than 20% below its record set early this year."

+ The Hustle talked to one of the most successful investors in the world about inflation, the debt crisis, and the decline of the American empire. It's worth reading this chat with Ray Dalio.

+ There's no such thing as a free lunch. But there is a such a thing as a highly subsidized one. And many Americans have been feasting at that trough for years. "If you woke up on a Casper mattress, worked out with a Peloton, Ubered to a WeWork, ordered on DoorDash for lunch, took a Lyft home, and ordered dinner through Postmates only to realize your partner had already started on a Blue Apron meal, your household had, in one day, interacted with eight unprofitable companies that collectively lost about $15 billion in one year." Times have changed. Profitably is back in vogue. Derek Thompson in The Atlantic: The End of the Millennial Lifestyle Subsidy.


Extra, Extra

Gringo Directly to Jail: "Here in Baja California, there's one small unit of state police — 10 men and two women — assigned to catch them. Officially, they're the International Liaison Unit. But they're known by another name: the Gringo Hunters. Pursuing American fugitives in Mexico might seem like the punchline of an unwritten joke, a xenophobic stereotype inverted: Donald Trump's 'bad hombres' in reverse." WaPo (Gift Article): A U.S. murder suspect fled to Mexico. The Gringo Hunters were waiting.

+ What's Yours is Mine: "A year ago, Sanhala was enjoying a successful career as a professional handball player representing her hometown of Lobito, a port city in western Angola. That life now feels a long way off. Today, she is part of a highly trained all-female demining squad working to rid her country of deadly anti-personnel and anti-tank mines while at the same time challenging traditional notions of gender roles in this southern African nation. 'It's a very different life. But I wanted a challenge.'" NPR: Angola's all-female demining teams blow up landmines — and gender stereotypes. (That's a tough area to fight for equality.)

+ Stroke of Luck?: "Patients whose brain injury coincidentally relieved their nicotine cravings may help unravel the neural underpinnings of addiction, a new study suggests." NYT: They Were Cigarette Smokers. Then a Stroke Vanquished Their Addiction.

+ A Whole Mesa Heat: It's been in the 80s in Phoenix. At night. The temperature topped 110F on four consecutive days and has not fallen below 80F at night-time for the past week. Meanwhile, "more than 100 million Americans are under heat warnings and advisories as a dangerous heat wave that began in the Southwest covers more real estate in the Central and Southern U.S."

+ Hanks Giving: "There are some artists, and Tom Hanks is one, who go beyond mere popularity and instead come to embody some part of our shared American story." NYT Mag (Gift Article): Tom Hanks Explains It All.


Bottom of the News

Think you've had bad days? Angels manager Joe Madden got a mohawk to fire his players up. But he was fired before any of them had a chance to see it. "Angels general manager Perry Minasian visited Maddon at his home to deliver the news of the firing in-person, which may have been awkward."

+ "Trail runner Ricky Lightfoot became only the third person to win the race since it started in 1980." The winner of the gruelling Man v Horse race has revealed he had been awake for 29 hours before the event.

+ Winners of the 2022 Big Picture Natural World Photography Competition.

+ The first rule of Rabbit Fight Club is that it's sort of embarrassing.