Is Skynet Inevitable? Excerpt:
In the latest Spike Jonze movie, Her, an operating system called Samantha evolves into an enchanting, self-directed intelligence with a will of her own. Samantha makes choices that do not harm humanity, though they do leave viewers feeling a bit sadder.
In his terrific new book, Our Final Invention, documentarian James Barrat argues that visions of an essentially benign artificial general intelligence (AGI) like Samantha amount to silly pipe dreams. Barrat believes artificial intelligence is coming, but he thinks it will be more like Skynet.
In the Terminator movies, Skynet is an automated defense system that becomes self-aware, decides that human beings are a danger to it, and seeks to destroy us with nuclear weapons and terminator robots. Barrat doesn’t just think that Skynet is likely. He thinks it’s practically inevitable.
Is it really inevitable?
At present we are in the midst of mankind’s third great cultural revolution. The Agricultural Revolution made it possible for people to produce more than they consumed; it made possible trade, a division of labor, the birth of villages, towns, cities.
Later, the Industrial Revolution gave us mass production, factories, consumer goods; it gave us railroads, automobiles, aircraft, travel, and leisure time. It gave us the first modern standard of living.
Now, we find ourselves in the Information Revolution, and it will be as world-changing as the first two – it already has been, even now, in its infancy. Who is to know what the next hundred years will bring?
Barrat concludes with no grand proposals for regulating or banning the development of artificial intelligence. Rather he offers his book as “a heartfelt invitation to join the most important conversation humanity can have.” His thoughtful case about the dangers of ASI gives even the most cheerful technological optimist much to think about.
Much to think about – but predictions are notoriously hard to make, especially when they’re about the future. AI may prove difficult to produce, and fickle when it’s realized – or it may be as predictable and reliable as the rising sun, and as gentle as the morning rain. We can’t know, and won’t – until it happens.
Vladimir Putin continues to kick up his heels in Eastern Europe, and the United States’ reaction continues to be feckless and ineffectual. First of today’s commentaries on that subject comes from the Wall Street Journal‘s James Taranto: Russian Republican? Excerpt:
“Accusing Russia of failing to live up to its commitments, President Barack Obama warned Moscow on Thursday that the United States has another round of economic sanctions ‘teed up’–even as he acknowledged those penalties may do little to influence Vladimir Putin’s handling of the crisis in Ukraine,” the Associated Press reports from Tokyo.
“Teed up”? What was it that somebody said about Putin playing chess while Obama plays golf?
Obama’s comments in Tokyo call to mind a story in Sunday’s New York Times by Peter Baker, which carried the curious headline “In Cold War Echo, Obama Strategy Writes Off Putin”:
Mr. Obama has concluded that even if there is a resolution to the current standoff over Crimea and eastern Ukraine, he will never have a constructive relationship with Mr. Putin, aides said. As a result, Mr. Obama will spend his final two and a half years in office trying to minimize the disruption Mr. Putin can cause, preserve whatever marginal cooperation can be saved and otherwise ignore the master of the Kremlin in favor of other foreign policy areas where progress remains possible.
Only a short generation ago we thought the Cold War was over. Mr. Putin, who we should bear in mind is a former KGB Colonel, seems determined to either re-ignite that Cold War or to establish a new Russian Empire – either that or a new Soviet Union.
Meanwhile, as Mr. Taranto pithily points out, the laughably inexperienced President Obama continues to play golf while Putin is playing chess – and, if you’ll forgive the mixed metaphor, Putin is playing for all the marbles.
More on that point, this time from Reason.com: Russia Threatens Invasion Unless Ukraine Stops Stopping Separatists. Excerpt:
Russia launched new military exercises along the Ukrainian border as part of yesterday’s threat that Kremlin forces would invade Ukraine if the nation continues its “anti-terrorist operation” against pro-Russian separatists.
Showing that Russia means business, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu today mobilized artillery, tanks, and fighter jets. Without a hint of irony, he justified the move by condemning the Ukrainian government’s action against the insurgents who are suspected of being Russian-backed. “The forces are clearly unequal. If this military machine is not stopped today, it will lead to a large number of dead and wounded.”
Let’s face it – if Ukraine and Russia come to blows, it won’t end well for Ukraine. The Russian Army is only a pale shadow of the WW2 Red Army colossus, but it’s more than enough to roll up the Ukrainian forces like the cheapest of carpets. And aside from some ineffectual sanctions, what will the U.S. and western Europe do?
That’s right. Nothing.
Interesting times, True Believers. Interesting times.
The recent Fort Hood event has reignited the debate on the carry of firearms, which is perhaps predictable; PJ Media has this story on the topic: Fort Hood and Disarmament. Excerpt:
The latest active shooter attack at Fort Hood, Texas on April 2, 2014 left three dead and 16 wounded. As is almost always the case, the killer, confronted with armed resistance, choose suicide, ending the rampage. The Army has released a timeline that indicates that the attack lasted something over eight minutes, but the timeline fails to note how much time passed between the first shot and the first 911 call, which means the actual time was likely about ten minutes.
This will become significant shortly. The gun that anti-freedom forces love to demonize, the AR-15 with its standard 30 round magazine, was not involved. Instead, the killer used only a commonly available .45 caliber semiautomatic handgun.
As all mass attacks do, this one has reanimated the gun control debate, but this time, anti-freedom advocates have a unique handicap. It may seem counterintuitive and surprising to many, but continental United States military installations are a gun-free anti-gunner’s dream. They are even more strictly regulated than many schools. Soldiers, airmen, sailors and marines are nowhere as thoroughly disarmed as they are on American military bases.
And why, one wonders, should that be the case? Why – why the bloody hell – should our servicemen and -women, professionals in the profession of arms, be denied the ability to bear arms on the grounds of their own bases?
As recently as the Seventies at least officers and senior NCOs routinely carried sidearms even on stateside bases. The expectation was simple: Service members were in the business of bearing and using arms, and it was taken for granted that they would be armed in the course of their duties.
And how is this relevant to the nutbar shooter at Fort Hood? Or his predecessor, the nutbar turncoat jihadist Major Hasan?
There are two possible scenarios: First, the shooter would have expected armed resistance at the target area, and would have either given the whole thing a pass or, at worst, selected another target. Second, the shooter would have encountered armed resistance at the target area and been terminated before doing as much damage as he did.
So, the risk analysis is fairly simple; worst case is a diversion to a softer target. Best case is an aborted mass-shooter. In either case, the argument for disarming professional warriors in their own bases comes off as what it clearly is: Idiotic.
Some interesting work done on crime rates vs. regional gun control laws to go along with some summery Friday Rule Five: An examination of the effects of concealed weapons laws and assault weapons bans on state-level murder rates. (link leads to a pdf document.) Key excerpt from the abstract:
Using data for the period 1980 to 2009 and controlling for state and year fixed effects, the results of the present study suggest that states with restrictions on the carrying of concealed weapons had higher gun-related murder rates than other states. It was also found that assault weapons bans did not significantly affect murder rates at the state level. These results suggest that restrictive concealed weapons laws may cause an increase in gun-related murders at the state level. The results of this study are consistent with some prior research in this area, most notably Lott and Mustard (1997).
Given that the average gun related murder rate over the period in question was 3.44, the results of the present study indicate that states with more restrictive CCW laws had gun-related murder rates that were 10% higher. In addition, the Federal assault weapons ban is significant and positive, indicating that murder rates were 19.3% higher when the Federal ban was in effect. These results corroborate the findings of Lott and Mustard (1997). These results suggest that, even after controlling for unobservable state and year fixed effects, limiting the ability to carry concealed weapons may cause murder rates to increase.
There may, however, be other explanations for these results. Laws may be ineffective due to loopholes and exemptions. The most violent states may also have the toughest gun control measures. Further research is warranted in this area.
Further research may be warranted, but the evidence that gun control has little to no effect on crime rates is better supported now than, say, anthropogenic climate change. The positive effects of liberalized concealed-carry laws is just as well documented.
Which makes the arguments – the tired, stale, old arguments – of gun control proponents all the more baffling. When Colorado’s concealed-carry law was being debated in the State legislature, we heard them all:
- There will be shootouts over parking spaces.
- People will be killed with their own guns.
- More handguns in the hands of citizens will mean more crime.
- Carnage will ensue from untrained people carrying guns.
None of these dire predictions came true – not anywhere. In fact, CCW permit holders are, as a group, some of the most law-abiding folks you’ll find anywhere.
But statistics aside, there is a matter of principle involved. Studies such as the one referenced above are useful in making arguments for public policy, to be sure, but the fact is that a free citizen should be able to make the choice for him or herself as to whether to carry a firearm for self-defense or defense of others.
I carry a gun for a variety of reasons; I’m too young to die and too old to get my ass kicked, I can’t carry a cop, I’d rather take my chances with twelve jurors than six pallbearers, and so on. But the primary reason I carry is this: I am a free, law-abiding citizen and it suits me to do so.
If we truly are a free country – if individual liberty still has any meaning – what other reason should be required?