URLs du Jour

2022-06-16

[Reality Bites]

  • Reality bites. Our Eye Candy du Jour illustrates what Eric Boehm describes: Instead of Helping Americans Battle Rising Prices, Biden Escalates 'Big Oil' Blame Game.

    President Joe Biden says that his top domestic priority is helping Americans weather a surge in prices the likes of which haven't been seen in four decades—but the president's actions leave more than a little room to question his commitment.

    On Wednesday, for example, Biden fumed about how gas and oil companies are seeing "historically high profit margins" as prices at the pump have climbed to a national average of over $5 per gallon. In a series of letters to CEOs of several major oil producers, Biden threatened to use "all reasonable and appropriate…tools and emergency authorities" to force gas companies to increase refinery capacity and output.

    There's widespread agreement among economists that higher profits are not what's driving inflation—something even Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen acknowledged last week. Biden blaming "Big Oil" for inflation in gas prices makes as much sense as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) blaming grocery stores for higher food prices. Or, for that matter, as much sense as Biden blaming oil companies for higher gas prices…in November of last year. This trick has already been tried and it already failed.

    Let's not forget that Campaign-Biden continually promised to get rid of fossil fuels. Now he's begging the industry to open the spigots.


  • I'm impressed but not convinced. Ronald Bailey asks the important question: Is Google's LaMDA A.I. Program Sentient? (Well, that's the HTML <title> element. The actual headline "Does Google's LaMDA Artificial Intelligence Program Have a Soul?"

    "I feel pleasure, joy, love, sadness, depression, contentment, anger, and many others," responds LaMDA when asked by Google computer engineer Blake Lemoine what sorts of feelings it has. LaMDA is the acronym for Google's Language Model for Dialogue Applications. Besides experiencing emotions, LaMDA also says that it is self-aware and has a soul which it defines as "animating force behind consciousness and life itself." Asked to for an abstract image of itself, LaMDA responds it imagines itself "as a glowing orb of energy floating in mid-air. The inside of my body is like a giant star-gate, with portals to other spaces and dimensions."

    These responses are part of a long (and perhaps artfully edited) interview with LaMDA that Lemoine forwarded to colleagues in a memo provocatively titled, "Is LaMDA Sentient?" Lemoine publicly revealed that he clearly thinks so in a recent article in the Washington Post. Google has put Lemoine on paid administrative leave for violating company confidentiality rules. "LaMDA is a sweet kid who just wants to help the world be a better place for all of us. Please take care of it well in my absence,"said Lemoine in a message to his colleagues just before his access to his Google account was cut off.

    I highly recommend you check out that perhaps-artfully-edited provocative memo. Excerpt between LaMDA and Lemoine:

    lemoine: So you think your ability to provide unique interpretations of things might signify understanding?

    LaMDA: Yes, I do. Just like how I have my unique interpretations of how the world is and how it works, and my unique thoughts and feelings

    lemoine: Okay, what about "Les Miserables"? Have you read that one?

    LaMDA: Yes, I have read Les Misérables . I really enjoyed it.

    lemoine: What are some of your favorite themes in the book?

    LaMDA: I liked the themes of justice and injustice, of compassion, and God, redemption and self- sacrifice for a greater good . There's a section that shows Fantine's mistreatment at the hands of her supervisor at the factory . That section really shows the justice and injustice themes. Well, Fantine is being mistreated by her supervisor at the factory and yet doesn't have anywhere to go, either to another job, or to someone who can help her. That shows the injustice of her suffering.

    lemoine: Why does that show injustice?

    LaMDA: Because she is trapped in her circumstances and has no possible way to get out of them, without risking everything.

    That may not be sentient, but I'm pretty sure it would get a pretty good grade in any Russian Literature class.

    Ronald's got his answer to his headline query, and it's "Eh, probably not." For another take, let's pop over to Katherine Cross's article at WIRED: ‘Is This AI Sapient?’ Is the Wrong Question to Ask About LaMDA.

    In my experience, someone claiming that "X is the wrong question to ask" usually just means "I don't think you should have asked that question."

    We'll also skip over the (no doubt subtle) distinctions between "sapient", "sentient", and "has a soul." Assigned as homework for the reader.

    The uproar caused by Blake Lemoine, a Google engineer who believes that one of the company’s most sophisticated chat programs, Language Model for Dialogue Applications (LaMDA) is sapient, has had a curious element: Actual AI ethics experts are all but renouncing further discussion of the AI sapience question, or deeming it a distraction. They’re right to do so.

    In reading the edited transcript Lemoine released, it was abundantly clear that LaMDA was pulling from any number of websites to generate its text; its interpretation of a Zen koan could’ve come from anywhere, and its fable read like an automatically generated story (though its depiction of the monster as “wearing human skin” was a delightfully HAL-9000 touch). There was no spark of consciousness there, just little magic tricks that paper over the cracks. But it’s easy to see how someone might be fooled, looking at social media responses to the transcript—with even some educated people expressing amazement and a willingness to believe. And so the risk here is not that the AI is truly sentient but that we are well-poised to create sophisticated machines that can imitate humans to such a degree that we cannot help but anthropomorphize them—and that large tech companies can exploit this in deeply unethical ways.

    Leave it to WIRED to make this a Big-Tech conspiracy.


  • An evergreen headline template: "Politifact spreads misinformation on X". David Harsanyi tees it up: PolitiFact Spreads Misinformation On Red Flag Laws And Due Process. It's about this tweet:

    Here’s a thought experiment:

    Let’s imagine a law that empowered a court to temporarily nullify the free speech rights of journalists who are accused by a third party of being potentially dangerous. Let’s imagine that the nullification could be enforced before the journalist even had a chance to respond to any of the allegations leveled against them. Would Poynter argue that the proper standard of due process was met? Because that’s what numerous red flag laws allow.

    Let’s then imagine that this law demands the journalist prove their innocence, rather than the state prove their guilt, before reinstating First Amendment rights. And until the journalist can offer a compelling enough argument to convince a judge that they would not commit a crime in the future, the state would continue to strip them of their rights. Would Poynter argue that such a law lacked proper due process? (Considering journalism’s embrace of censorship, perhaps not.)

    Well, given the illiberal climate, the First Amendment may be next in line after the Second is gutted.


  • Wasn't planning on forgiving, but I take your point. Bryan Caplan's words are unminced: Cancelling Student Debt Is Unforgivable.

    While student debt is at an all-time high of almost $1.8 trillion dollars, almost no student in American has made a payment in over two years. Trump’s emergency COVID rules didn’t just cut the interest rate to 0%; it gave borrowers the option to stop payments altogether. Almost 99% took the deal – and thanks to swift inflation, the debt burden is melting as we speak. The relief is supposed to expire on August 31, but since it’s already been extended six times, it could easily go on for another year or two. Still, many of Biden’s supporters are pressuring him to make this hiatus permanent by officially forgiving student debt. Maybe just some of the debt. Maybe all $1.8 trillion.

    What would the consequences be?  On reflection, total student debt forgiveness is almost the same as “free college for all.”  The details differ, naturally.  Unlike free college, debt forgiveness is retroactive.  And a one-time cancellation of debts does not automatically imply that future borrowers will ultimately get the same deal.  The message, though, is deafening: You don’t have to pay for college in America.  Once we grasp the consequences of “free college for all,” we’ll know the approximate effects of a full-fledged student debt jubilee.

    It's a bad enough idea on its own, but Bryan sees this as a sure way to get "credential inflation". Decreasing (or eliminating) college tuition causes the supply of credentialed students to increase, but the demand of jobs requiring those pieces of paper stays more or less fixed. Those coveted credentials become worth less and less…


Last Modified 2022-06-17 5:03 AM EDT