URLs du Jour

2019-06-21

[Amazon Link]

  • John Tierney (writing at American Consequences) wonders: is Artificial Intelligence coming to get you?

    Spoiler: he's a debunker of various forms of that idea. For example: will Vernor Vinge's "singularity" occur, with AIs quickly bootstrapping themselves into near-infinite smarts, and … not so much "take over", but ignore humanity as irrelevant?

    Vinge predicted that this singularity would occur by 2030. With all due respect to Amazon’s Alexa, today that possibility doesn’t look much more likely than it did in 1993, and many cognitive and AI scientists doubt that it will ever occur. While computers will do more and more tasks better than humans, whether they’ll ever become truly intelligent – and achieve consciousness – is still very much in doubt.

    But let’s assume that it happens someday. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that they became so smart and powerful that they could conquer us…

    Why would they want to?

    Good question. Mr. Tierney grabs much of his argument here from Steven Pinker's Enlightenment Now, which you should already have read.


  • OK, we've read our Hayek, so we know that central planning is unworkable. We also know (deep down) that it's fundamentally immoral to enlist individuals involuntarily into some sort of collectively-determined goal they may not share, or even support. But Veronique de Rugy, in her syndicated column, points out another drawback: Central Planning Is Poisonous to Innovation. It's in response to "a proposal by Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., to create a new federal agency called the National Institute of Manufacturing."

    U.S. industrial policies launched in response to the rise of Japan in the 1980s and the USSR before that failed, not because American policy mavens weren't smart enough to do things right. The real problem with industrial policy, economic development strategy, central planning or whatever you want to call these interventions is that government officials are inescapably plagued by ignorance of localized knowledge. Government officials cannot outperform the wisdom of the market at picking winners. In fact, government intervention in any sector creates distortions, misdirects investments toward politically favored companies and hinders the ability of unsubsidized competitors to offer better alternatives. Central planning in all forms is poisonous to innovation.

    As Peters notes, "If you go on the factory floor in Michigan, it's not your father's or grandfather's factory." Indeed! American companies are in fact fantastically innovative and productive on their own. They have evolved to produce more of what consumers want at lower costs — most of them without a central planner directing them from Washington. Old ideas that have never worked are no way to foster more innovation. Lighter regulations, a better tax code, more immigrants and freedom to do what they do best are what entrepreneurs need.

    Veronique also notes that US manufacturing output is at an all-time high; we just do it with fewer workers than we used to. And despite all the doomsayers: that's a good thing.


  • At National Review, Kevin D. Williamson (once again) has something smart to say. Specifically, that Party Establishments, Lobbyists, Interest Groups [are] The Wrong Political Bogeymen. A sobering bottom line at the real villains, after debunking the groups named in the headline:

    But these bogeymen provide welcome distraction from the real enemy. Who’s that? It’s the special-interest group that demands higher spending, lower taxes, and a balanced budget.

    You know: Americans.

    We'll engage in multiple mental contortions to avoid that simple truth.


  • At the Technology Liberation Front, Adam Thierer describes How Conservatives Came to Favor the Fairness Doctrine & Net Neutrality. It is mostly a look at Sen. Josh Howley's bad idea, his “Ending Support for Internet Censorship Act”.

    Under the bill, the FTC must evaluate whether platforms have engaged in “politically biased moderation,” which is defined as moderation practices that are supposedly, “designed to negatively affect” or “disproportionately restricts or promote access to … a political party, political candidate, or political viewpoint.” As Blake Reid of the University of Colorado Law School rightly asks, “How, exactly, is the FTC supposed to figure out what the baseline is for ‘disproportionately restricting or promoting’? How much access or availability to information about political parties, candidates, or viewpoints is enough, or not enough, or too much?”

    There is no Goldilocks formula for getting things just right when it comes to content moderation. It’s a trial-and-error process that is nightmarishly difficult because of the endless eye-of-the-beholder problems associated with constructing acceptable use policies for large speech platforms. We struggled with the same issues in the broadcast and cable era, but they have been magnified a million-fold in the era of the global Internet with the endless tsunami of new content that hits our screens and devices every day. “Do we want less moderation?” asks Sec, 230 guru Jeff Kosseff. “I think we need to look at that question hard.  Because we’re seeing two competing criticisms of Section 230,” he notes. “Some argue that there is too much moderation, others argue that there is not enough.”

    The only liberty-compatible strategy to getting Facebook, Google, Twitter, et. al. to behave is to shine a bright light on their unfairness, opacity, and arbitrariness. And exercise your right to leave, boycott their advertisers, patronize their competitors, and so on.


  • We know that General Stark is credited as the proximate source of New Hampshire's motto. But the Bennington Banner reproduces the text of the 1809 letter in which he provided it: John Stark on liberty and foreign influence.

    You well know, gentlemen, that at the time of the event you celebrate, there was a powerful British faction in the country (called Tories), and a material part of the force we had to contend with was [at Bennington, Hoosick] Tories. This faction was rankling in our councils, till they had laid the foundation for the subversion of our liberties. But by good sentinels at our outposts, we were apprised of our danger: and the Sons of Freedom beat the alarm, — and, as at Bennington, "They came, they saw, they conquered." But again the faction has rallied to the charge, and again they have been beaten.

    It is my orders now, and will be my last orders to all volunteers, to look well to their sentries; for there is a dangerous British party in this country, lurking in their hiding places, more dangerous than all our foreign enemies. And whenever they shall appear openly, to render the same account of them that was given at Bennington, let them assume what name they will: not doubting that the ladies will be as patriotic, in furnishing every aid, as they were at Bennington in '77, who even dismantled their beds to furnish cords to secure and lead them off.

    The General was no fan of Brits, or British sympathizers. The latter were made prisoners, apparently "led off" from their homes down to Boston. A lot of them, I understand, became Canadians.