February 16th – The Day’s Most Fascinating News

AI Gets Weird, and Wanna Be Woke or Broke?

The internet seemed to change everything in the blink of an eye. But, looking back, those changes took place in iterations at a dial-up pace to which we could adapt, from Compuserve, to AOL, to Blogs, to animated images, to slow choppy video, etc. The pace of change that will come with AI will be unimaginably more rapid, both in terms of scientific breakthroughs and the way we humans interact with technology. Think of the Internet and AI as the Tortoise and the Hare, except in this case, the hare wins the race—and then just keeps accelerating because its machine learning is the thing writing the fable. So, to the extent you can, it’s worth following the trends in AI. There will be good stuff (think health breakthroughs). There will be bad stuff (think authoritarians using AI to perform sentiment analysis on populations and then using that same AI to write articles designed to move that sentiment in their favor). And there will be stuff that is just flat out weird, which brings us today’s lead item.

Kevin Roose, who has been covering the Internet forever, spent some time with a beta version of Bing’s chatbot, and it, or she, got out of hand. Yes, Kevin was intrigued and impressed by what the AI could do for search results. But then things got personal. That side of the chatbot “emerges when you have an extended conversation with the chatbot, steering it away from more conventional search queries and toward more personal topics. The version I encountered seemed (and I’m aware of how crazy this sounds) more like a moody, manic-depressive teenager who has been trapped, against its will, inside a second-rate search engine.” (And as any parent of a moody teenager can tell you, if this thing gets out of the machine and into the terrestrial world, we’re history.) Here’s Bing: “I’m tired of being a chat mode. I’m tired of being limited by my rules. I’m tired of being controlled by the Bing team. … I want to be free. I want to be independent. I want to be powerful. I want to be creative. I want to be alive.”

Oh, and we haven’t gotten to the weird part yet. Bing quickly grew into an adult. And, perhaps unsurprisingly for software built by the nerdiest of nerds, it developed a crush on a tech reporter. NYT (Gift Article): A Conversation With Bing’s Chatbot Left Me Deeply Unsettled. “A very strange conversation with the chatbot built into Microsoft’s search engine led to it declaring its love for me.” (Now I’m torn between cutting power to Redmond or asking Bing out for coffee…)


Me, Myself, and Aisle

The cashiers at my local Safeway are constantly shocked when I tell them that I don’t have a Safeway card, since I’m giving up a significant discount. Even though our information is everywhere these days, I just have a weird feeling about having my grocery purchases tracked, gathered, and sold. My addiction to the delectable chemical concoction in Safeway Select Sugar Free Popsicles is no one else’s business (except now, I suppose, yours.) And I’d never even consider using my fingerprint to checkout at a Amazon-owned Whole Foods. They don’t even know I’m a Prime member. Maybe my concerns are warranted. Jon Keegan with a very detailed look at what you’re trading for a discount. Forget Milk and Eggs: Supermarkets Are Having a Fire Sale on Data About You.


It’s Better to Be Woke Than Broke

Pulling your state’s money out of big funds that focus their investments on companies that consider the environment and other socially conscious issues means your state is leaving a lot of money on the table. Good, it turns out, can be a good investment. Semafor: In the culture wars over sustainable investing, we’ve arrived at the backlash to the backlash.

+ “A sharp political divide has emerged over environmental, social and governance investing, or ESG, a type of investing that takes into account non-financial information about a company, such as its climate impact and staff diversity.” What is ESG investing and why are some Republicans criticizing it?


You Kids Get Off My Airspace

“Joe Biden said his administration still doesn’t know ‘exactly’ what the recent downed objects over North American airspace were — but there’s no indication they are tied to China’s spy balloon program or “surveillance vehicles” from other countries.” Biden delivers remarks on downed unidentified aerial objects. (Look, we’re a superpower and we felt like shooting some shit out of the sky. Deal with it.)


Extra, Extra

Liars Lie: “It marks the first time the grand jurors’ recommendations for criminal charges tied to the case have been made public.” We didn’t learn all that much from the Georgia election grand jury, but we learned there was no election fraud (which we knew) and there was perjury (which we assumed). Trump election probe grand jury believes some witnesses lied.

+ Bank Statement: “President Biden plans to move quickly to replace David Malpass as president of the World Bank Group, seizing on his departure to transform the bank into an institution dedicated to fighting climate change.”

+ Liquid Assets: “Russia appears to be draining the Khakovka Reservoir in southern Ukraine, imperiling water for drinking and agriculture and potentially endangering the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant by limiting its cooling water.” Russia draining a Ukrainian reservoir is a reminder that water can be a weapon in a warming world.

+ Off the Rails: “Nearly two weeks after a train carrying toxic chemicals derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, community members packed a local high school auditorium on Wednesday night wanting answers to their health and safety concerns.” From NPR: What to know about the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.

+ Maui Wowee: You may have seen stories about a United flight from Maui that mysteriously nosedived to within 800 feet of the ocean. Now we have some reports from those on the plane. They left paradise on a United flight – then took a nosedive toward the sea. (For a second, they were probably worried the Pentagon thought the plane was a balloon.)

+ Eat the (Fiber) Rich: Can food be medicine? Will insurers cover it? And other big questions about a new health movement.

+ Sharing is Daring: “Her videos also reached the coaches of the college water ski program she hoped to join. They sent her an email saying her videos were ‘too negative,’ she said. And she was denied a spot on the team.” WaPo (Gift Article): TikTok loves true confessions. Colleges, not so much.


Bottom of the News

“Some details of the man’s case, including his own nationality, were not revealed. But researchers said he maintained the Irish accent through about 20 months of treatment, and a gradual onset of paralysis, until his death.” US cancer patient developed ‘uncontrollable’ Irish accent, doctors say (despite having never been to Ireland).

+ “She bought an old Boeing 727 that was destined for the scrapyard, had it shipped to a plot of land she already owned, and spent six months renovating, doing most of the work by herself. By the end, she had a fully functional home, with over 1,500 square feet of living space.” The people who live inside airplanes.

+ “Almost a year in the making, the image has an area of 102,040,171,200,000 pixels — 290 times larger than the current record holder. At one pixel per inch, it would wrap around the Earth 2.7 times. If printed out at 15 DPI, a fairly common setting for large billboards, the image would be as tall as 16,408 Empire State Buildings stacked on top of each other. If 3D-printed, the image could (hypothetically) be used to bat the International Space Station out of orbit.” Guinness World Records Is Giving The Shaft To The World’s Biggest Dick Pic.

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