aTypical Joe: a gay New Yorker living in the rural South
Sunday, November 18, 2007
The Singularity: A Period Not An Event
Whatever writes future history will look back at what we are calling the singularity not as a single event but as a period of time. The singularity period will encompass a time where a collection of technologies were invented, developed, and deployed in fits and starts, driven not by the imperative of the singularity itself, but by the normal economic and sociological pressures of human affairs. A Hollywood treatment of the singularity would have a world just like today’s, plus the singularity, as a singular event. In reality, the world will be changing continuously due to rapid growth in technologies that are both related and unrelated to the singularity itself. The future will be embedded in a different world than the one we inhabit. And the AI systems we create will not have the same desires, beliefs, and goals as today-us. Tomorrow-us will be much better equipped for the changes that will take place in our world. This talk will explore how things might unfold and how we will transform ourselves along the way.
My notes on his comments begin with his definition of the singularity. Clean, clear and simple, he says it’s “the technological creation of a smarter than human intelligence.”
On predicting the future, he’s a fan of Arthur C. Clarke who said, “When it comes to technology, most people overestimate it in the short-term but underestimate it in the long-term.”
Brooks says he expects accelerated progress for AI and robotics because of a couple trends. First, demographics. The population is aging - the baby boomers are about to hit retirement but they won’t be the last of it - so young people will have to become more productive:
There will be so many market pulls on providing services, things that are currently being done by the working age between 20 and 65 who will be a much smaller portion of the population so their productivity will have to be increased through information technology and robotics… we will get a lot of push, a lot of venture capital, a lot of government research money around the world pushing into AI and intelligence systems. There’s going to be rapid progress.
And there are big issues in labor… we outsource manufacturing labor, we insource agricultural labor in Europe and North America… there’s lots of political pressure here which, again, is going to push us to have different productivity models and AI and robotics are going to be part of that.
That all rings true to me. So now we get to the fun part of his talk, his musings on alternative futures. How the Artificial General Intelligence might be made manifest…
Global Warming Threat to Farming and Food Supply
I fear this will be read as a permission slip for Right leaning American global warming skeptics to keep their head in the sand for a good while longer:
Several recent analyses have concluded that the higher temperatures expected in coming years—along with salt seepage into groundwater as sea levels rise and anticipated increases in flooding and droughts—will disproportionately affect agriculture in the planet’s lower latitudes, where most of the world’s poor live.
India, on track to be the world’s most populous country, could see a 40 percent decline in agricultural productivity by the 2080s as record heat waves bake its wheat-growing region, placing hundreds of millions of people at the brink of chronic hunger.
Africa—where four out of five people make their living directly from the land—could see agricultural downturns of 30 percent, forcing farmers to abandon traditional crops in favor of more heat-resistant and flood-tolerant ones such as rice. Worse, some African countries, including Senegal and war-torn Sudan, are on track to suffer what amounts to complete agricultural collapse, with productivity declines of more than 50 percent.
Even the emerging agricultural powerhouse of Latin America is poised to suffer reductions of 20 percent or more, which could return thriving exporters such as Brazil to the subsistence-oriented nations they were a few decades ago.
Tutu ashamed of Anglican homophobia
Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu has slammed the church for being “obsessed” with homosexuality, in a BBC radio programme to be broadcast Tuesday.
The South African 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner, 76, said he felt ashamed of his church for its attitude towards gays. [...]
“Our world is facing problems—poverty, HIV and AIDS—a devastating pandemic, and conflict,” Tutu said.
“God must be weeping looking at some of the atrocities that we commit against one another.
“In the face of all of that, our Church, especially the Anglican Church, at this time is almost obsessed with questions of human sexuality.”
He said the Anglican church had appeared “extraordinarily homophobic” during the row over whether the openly gay priest Gene Robinson should be allowed to become the Bishop of New Hampshire.
Tutu said he was “saddened and “ashamed” of the church over the row.
Death penalty deterrent: let’s test it
According to roughly a dozen recent studies, executions save lives. For each inmate put to death, the studies say, 3 to 18 murders are prevented. [...]
The studies have been the subject of sharp criticism, much of it from legal scholars who say that the theories of economists do not apply to the violent world of crime and punishment. Critics of the studies say they are based on faulty premises, insufficient data and flawed methodologies.
The death penalty “is applied so rarely that the number of homicides it can plausibly have caused or deterred cannot reliably be disentangled from the large year-to-year changes in the homicide rate caused by other factors,” John J. Donohue III, a law professor at Yale with a doctorate in economics, and Justin Wolfers, an economist at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote in the Stanford Law Review in 2005. “The existing evidence for deterrence,Ã¢â‚¬Â� they concluded, “is surprisingly fragile.”
Gary Becker, who won the Nobel Prize in economics in 1992 and has followed the debate, said the current empirical evidence was “certainly not decisive” because “we just don’t get enough variation to be confident we have isolated a deterrent effect.”
But, Mr. Becker added, “the evidence of a variety of types - not simply the quantitative evidence - has been enough to convince me that capital punishment does deter and is worth using for the worst sorts of offenses.Ã¢â‚¬Â�
You know, I dislike and oppose the death penalty but I equally dislike life imprisonment. Lock ‘em up and throw away the key seems more inhumane - particularly with the way we treat prisoners - than a quick, painless death. Death is cheaper, too, if we do away with all those pesky procedural safeguards.
So let’s test it. Sex offenders already have de facto life sentences. We can start with them. Murderers next. The list is endless. Why not “three strikes, your dead?” Let’s go ahead and give in to the vengeance we feel to gather the quantitative evidence we need.
THOMAS CAHILL: I think that there are many things within the human soul or within the human character that we ignore. There’s a tendency to violence in all of us. There’s even, I believe, a prehistoric desire for human sacrifice. We see it in all ancient cultures… Why have there been so many movies about Romans sitting in the Coliseum going like that? We get a kick out of it. The real evil in the world, it seems to me, is cruelty. That’s-- to me the word evil equals cruelty. It’s human cruelty that is evil. And you-- we all have to deal with that. We all have a tendency to that that we’re not willing - we’re not willing to acknowledge that this is inside of us. It’s there.
Cass Sunstein is quoted in the NYTimes piece, “The evidence...seems sufficiently plausible that the moral issue becomes a difficult one. I did shift from being against the death penalty to thinking that if it has a significant deterrent effect it’s probably justified.”
Meanwhile he was featured last week on TPM’s Table for One where, in an entirely different context for entirely different reasons, he pointed to an experiment involving jury behavior:
That experiment, conducted by Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman, David Schkade and me, can be found here and in shorter form in Cass R. Sunstein et al., Punitive Damages: How Juries Decide (University of Chicago Press, 2003). The suggestion is that the experiment has implications for certain uses of the Internet, above all because it helps explain the dynamics of outrage.
To understanding the experiment, we have to begin with an earlier one, involving individuals, not groups (this study, also done with Kahneman and Schkade, can be found in the Punitive Damages book as well)… People are intuitive retributivists, and their punishment judgments are rooted in outrage. (Deterrence is secondary.) And if certain scales are used, outrage turns out to be stunningly uniform across demographic groups (at least in personal injury cases involving corporate wrongdoing).
Emphasis mine: If his finding that “punishment judgments rooted in outrage” have implications for the Internet don’t you guess they’d have death penalty implications as well? I’m no economist, or academic researcher, I’m a lay citizen admirer of both. My lay experience and intuition tell me that economics is no way to make these decisions.
I understand that these are deep, impenetrable problems with no easy or clear solution. But I expect that the research reported in today’s NYTimes piece (and this WSJ’s piece, too) will be understood by lay people - citizens, who are, like me, overwhelmed by the problem - as reason to give in to their Roman retributive proclivities and justify the pro-death penalty position.
I think that’s