Tuesday, November 21st, 2023


Ready, AI, Fire

We got my daughter her first iPhone sometime during seventh grade and we haven't seen her much since. My son was born during right around the the time the first iPhone was released, so he's hasn't really ever had my full attention. These same devices that often keep us apart also keep us together, and during the pandemic, phones and other connected devices enabled my kids to maintain their studies and social connections. That's how it is with technology; it comes with good and bad. In many ways, trying to nudge the insanely powerful technology known as artificial intelligence toward the right side of that good/bad equation is at the core of the now infamous OpenAI CEO firing debacle. With large language models like ChatGPT, the good/bad equation is often open for debate and involves subtle distinctions. (It's notable that the humans most worried about the power of their company's technology have nearly run that company into the ground.) Other uses of AI are less subtle. "The debate over the risks of artificial intelligence has drawn new attention in recent days with the battle over control of OpenAI, perhaps the world's leading A.I. company, whose leaders appeared split over whether the firm is taking sufficient account over the dangers of the technology. And last week, officials from China and the United States discussed a related issue: potential limits on the use of A.I. in decisions about deploying nuclear weapons." (Well, that escalated quickly). NYT (Gift Article): As A.I.-Controlled Killer Drones Become Reality, Nations Debate Limits. "Rapid advances in artificial intelligence and the intense use of drones in conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East have combined to make the issue that much more urgent. So far, drones generally rely on human operators to carry out lethal missions, but software is being developed that soon will allow them to find and select targets more on their own." (It's only a matter of time before my kids want one of these...)

+ The OpenAI power struggle will (probably) be settled without killer drones. And it will probably be settled with Sam Altman back at the helm. Consider that 95% of OpenAI employees have threatened to quit in standoff with board and join Altman wherever he goes next. (That's incredible support. I don't even have 95% approval from myself.)


Like a Good Neighbor

"He did odd jobs for others, but rarely left town. Despite having taught driver's ed to high schoolers, Holt had given up driving a car. He opted for a bicycle instead and finally the mower. His mobile home in the park was mostly empty of furniture -- no TV and no computer, either. The legs of the bed went through the floor." In other words, it seemed unlikely that Geoffrey Holt, the caretaker of a mobile home park in Hinsdale, New Hampshire, would be worth millions. But the story doesn't end there. New Hampshire man had no car and no furniture, but died with a big secret, leaving his town millions.


With Allies Like These…

"Now, as the war killing thousands extends deep into a second month, the man known as 'the Magician' for slipping out of political traps is trying to wriggle loose again by directly confronting the United States and, according to one former and one current U.S. official, angering the Biden administration." Noga Tarnopolsky: Bibi Bites Back. "To help himself at home, Israel's deeply unpopular leader has begun openly defying Biden and the US."

+ It looks like Bibi has the majority of his government (sans the far right) ready to approve what could be an imminent hostage deal. It's notable that Hamas still has so much negotiating power after weeks of an onslaught that has killed so many civilians. Here's the latest from CNN, BBC, and Times of Israel.


Window Shopping

"It is the summer of 1960 and Gigli is in a rush. Demolition on the brownstones has already begun — that's why there's no glass in those windows — and the day after the shoot, the buildings will be razed. But the demolition supervisor has agreed to let Gigli commandeer the place for two hours during an extended lunch break, under one condition: The supervisor wants his wife in the picture. (She's on the third floor, third from the left.)" The NYT (Gift Article) with an interesting look at how "Girls in the Windows" became so popular. Is This the World's Highest Grossing Photograph? (It's a really cool photograph.)


Extra, Extra

Photo Finish: Groucho Marx supposedly said, "I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member." That's the way I feel about end of the year photo collections. They're always interesting to look it, but it's probably bad news if you actually appear in any of the photos. Let's kick off the season with Time's Top 100 Photos of 2023.

+ WaterWorld: "Mexico is running out of drinking water. From the arid and desert regions of the country's north to sun-baked tropics of the south, water shortages are becoming increasingly common—and the national implications are already being felt in the form of mass protests, economic threats, and increasing attention by the leading candidates in the country's presidential race." Welcome to the future. Mexico's Water Crisis Is Spilling Over Into Politics.

+ The Haves and the Have Lots: "The champagne coupe is a fitting image for the great carbon divide that we are living through. The last time wealth inequality was as pronounced as it is now was during that belle époque of the 1920s. Then, it was bad enough as a cause of social misery and international instability. Today, it is arguably much worse because the gulf between the haves and have-nots extends to their carbon emissions, which heightens suffering from the climate crisis and impedes efforts to find a solution." A small group of wealthy people and nations create most of the carbon. The poorer masses suffer the outcome. The great carbon divide. For those scoring at home, here's The State of the Planet in 10 Numbers.

+ Coyote Ugly: "Coyotes drop off over 300 migrants at a miles-long gap in the border wall in the Southern California desert. When the migrants cross it, they find themselves on the outskirts of the tiny community of Jacumba, population about 600. They end up at camps like this one, an open field near the highway, where Border Patrol has told them to wait. Activists and locals say it's a humanitarian disaster. And they say no one is helping." Border Patrol sending migrants to unofficial camps in California's desert, locals say.

+ The Buy and Buy: The internet has created a great way for companies to make money. For individuals, it's created a really efficient way to spend. Amanda Mull: It's Too Easy to Buy Stuff You Don't Want.


Bottom of the News

"For Hoffman, the feat came with a touch of redemption; she'd come tantalizingly close to pulling off the same FKT in 2019, but had to quit in Akron, Ohio, after tearing her right meniscus." This Woman Ran from San Francisco to New York in 47 Days.

+ WaPo (Gift Article): See inside the Tofurky factory, where a Thanksgiving icon is made. (This is enough to make a vegan ask for dark meat this weekend...)