The Arrogance of Donald Trump

15237I’ll leave it to the elephants to trample the grass around the firing of FBI Director James Comey – except to agree with the obvious point that this clearly wasn’t about the Director’s handling of the Hillary Clinton e-mail issue – but I do want to call out one telling detail of yesterday’s drama: Mr. Trump sent his longtime bodyguard – Keith Schiller – to hand carry the letter of dismissal to Director Comey’s office. That wasn’t an accident and reveals the petty cruelty and arrogance of Mr. Trump.

For those unfamiliar with Mr. Schiller, he has been part of the Trump Organization since 1999 when he signed on as a part-time bodyguard. In 2005, he became Trump’s head of security. If you’ve ever watched a Trump rally, you’ve probably seen Mr. Schiller as he’s rarely far from his boss.

Schiller served in the New York Police Department and in the Navy so he has law enforcement experience, but his primary qualification for his job is his unwavering loyalty to Trump. Sending him to “fire” James Comey – someone who has worked for decades in the highest levels of our nation’s law enforcement – is a calculated insult akin to sending a first-year medical student to pull a neurosurgeon out of an operating room.

In plain language, it’s a dick move by a low-class bully who probably fouled the Oval Office by giggling about how clever he was.

This detail changes nothing about how I feel about Mr. Trump and I suspect that it won’t change anyone’s opinion of the man. If, however, someone tells you about the “warm and gracious” Trump that no one sees on camera, remember this counterpoint. This is the real Donald Trump and these are the people he wants around him.

  • Austin

High-Risk Pools, Pre-Existing Conditions and Other Lies: Why Tomorrow’s Health Care Vote Matters

dXvSVWord this evening is that the House Republican leadership has set a vote for tomorrow on the latest version of “Repeal and Replace.” Insiders and observers are saying that this is a sign Speaker Ryan and his whips have found the requisite number of “yeas” to get the bill out of the House and on to the Senate.

On the one hand, tomorrow’s vote doesn’t really matter. Whatever Frankenbill they cobbled together won’t last a day in the Senate before it gets shredded. And, whatever the Senate sends back to the House will be a non-starter for the lower house. So tomorrow is a little meaningless skirmish in a larger war. It will give the Umber Jackhole residing at 1600 Pennsylvania an empty victory he will claim in Tweet and incoherent interview alike but nothing much else.

On the other hand, the hand I care about this evening, tomorrow’s vote matters a lot. The Republican legislation – to the extent anyone knows what’s actually in it – substantially weakens the provisions of the Affordable Care Act. The authors of the bill know this. The administration knows this. Donald Trump doesn’t care what it does as long as it passes.

And yet all of these people are saying just the opposite and are thus perpetrating a fraud on the American people and on that basis, tomorrow’s vote matters very much. It is a test of whether our system still works, an opportunity to say, “Hell no” to this level of mendacity and grifter behavior.

If you’re already convinced on this point, you can skip the rest of this post and simply stop here with this call to action: Please call, email or visit your Congressperson tomorrow. Do it more than once. The main phone number is (202) 224-3121. You can find a list of Congressional offices (most with links to their direct phone numbers and emails) here. Don’t know how your Representative is? Look it up here.  Tweet at them, post on their Facebook pages. Share this with your friends and ask them to do the same. Ask your Representative to reject this legislation.

If, however, you’re unconvinced that tomorrow’s vote is worth your time or if some of your friends need more than just an ask from some random person on their Facebook feed, the rest of this post is for you and them.

At the core of the bill being voted on tomorrow is a set of changes that will allow insurers to return to many of their pre-ACA behaviors including greater price discrimination by age, the promotion of substandard plans, as well as cuts to Medicaid and – as has been much discussed – will create a pathway for the elimination of coverage for pre-existing conditions.

As I understand the proposed legislation, if a state asks the federal government for a waiver, insurers in that state can refuse to cover pre-existing conditions if 1) the insured person lets his or her coverage lapse and 2) the state sets up a “high-risk” pool or reinsurance program as a safety net. This is pretty much the way things worked in the pre-ACA days when – according to the New York Times – 35 states had such mechanisms.

So…let’s contemplate for a second how many Republican governors there are – 33. How many state legislatures are controlled by the GOP – 32. How many of those politicians have pledged their undying, unyielding hatred of Obamacare. Suddenly, that hurdle doesn’t seem so high.

The process for granting a waiver? Under the current Trump administration, I’m guessing that will be something that can be completed on a postcard and approved with a “looks good to me” review.

I’ll leave it to you to contemplate all the ways you can lose coverage in today’s world of economic dislocation. Suffice it to say shit happens.

“But wait! Wait,” the apologists will claim. Even if you’re right, those people will still have access to care. Through the high-risk pools.

Yeah, let’s talk about that idea.

Historically, as the Times article notes, those pools have been wildly underfunded, charged participants much, much higher premiums than the prevailing market, were capped in terms of how many people they would accept and how much they would pay out either in a year or a lifetime. As the Times noted, California had an annual cap of $75,000 per person and across all the plans – in all 35 states – a grand total of 230,000 people were able to get coverage.

230,000 people out of 321,000,000. Less than 1/10 of 1 percent of the population.

Needless to say the number of people with pre-existing conditions is substantially bigger than 1/10th of 1 percent. How much bigger? Try 270 times bigger. And, depending on where you live, a lot bigger.

That’s not hyperbole. That’s actual verified data, the stuff we used to call “facts” in the old days. Based on an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 27 percent of the people under 65 have a pre-existing condition. Add it all up, according to Kaiser, and you come up with more than 52,000,000 people who might find themselves with no coverage, unaffordable coverage or substandard coverage.

And, of course, as you get older, the prevalence of pre-existing conditions increases. The graphic from AARP below illustrates, the percentage of people in the 50-64 age bracket with a pre-existing condition ranges from 32 percent on the low end to 52 percent on the high end.

Map

You might not have a pre-existing condition, but if you live in a family of four chances are someone in your family does. If your block has 12 families on it, three of them might be uninsurable under a loosened standard of coverage and could be bankrupted by the cost of care. As Jimmy Kimmel tearfully noted, even newborns come with pre-existing conditions and a family without insurance – or an insurance plan with a lifetime or annual cap – can find itself have to choose between caring for their newborn or sending him to college, owning a home or a retirement.

In case you’re interested in exactly what constitutes a pre-existing condition, you might be surprised to learn that you could pretty easily fall in that category. Pre-ACA, the list of conditions considered pre-existing included:

 

  • AIDS/HIV
  • Alcohol and drug abuse
  • Alzheimer’s/dementia
  • Arthritis (rheumatoid), fibromyalgia, other inflammatory joint disease
  • Cancer
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)/emphysema
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Coronary artery/heart disease, bypass surgery
  • Crohn’s disease/ ulcerative colitis
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Epilepsy
  • Hemophilia
  • Hepatitis
  • Kidney disease, renal failure
  • Lupus
  • Mental disorders (severe, e.g. bipolar, eating disorder)
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Obesity
  • Organ transplant
  • Paralysis
  • Paraplegia
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Pending surgery or hospitalization
  • Pneumocystic pneumonia
  • Pregnancy or expectant parent
  • Sleep apnea
  • Stroke
  • Transsexualism

Pre-existing conditions could also injuries, previous surgical procedures and more.

I’m not alone in opposing this, of course, and neither is it a liberal thing. The famously conservative American Medical Association? Against it. Also the American Psychiatric Association, the American College of Physicians, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Osteopathic Association and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. So too is the American Cancer Society, the American Diabetes Association, the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, JDRF, March of Dimes, the National Organization for Rare Disorders, the National MS Society and others. The American Hospital Association? A no vote. Ditto for the Children’s Hospital Association and AARP. For too many reasons to enumerate, these organizations know the scam that’s being pulled and are screaming about it:

“None of the legislative tweaks under consideration changes the serious harm to patients and the health care delivery system if AHCA passes. Proposed changes to the bill tinker at the edges without remedying the fundamental failing of the bill – that millions of Americans will lose their health insurance as a direct result of this proposal.

“High-risk pools are not a new idea. Prior to the enactment of the Affordable Care Act, 35 states operated high-risk pools, and they were not a panacea for Americans with pre-existing medical conditions. The history of high-risk pools demonstrates that Americans with pre-existing conditions will be stuck in second-class health care coverage – if they are able to obtain coverage at all.

“Not only would the AHCA eliminate health insurance coverage for millions of Americans, the legislation would, in many cases, eliminate the ban against charging those with underlying medical conditions vastly more for their coverage.”

– American Medical Association President Andrew W. Gurman, M.D

Again, the authors of this bill also know all this. They know that they’re opening an easy pathway to exclusion of pre-existing conditions. They know the money they’ve set aside to support high-risk pools is inadequate for its intended purpose. They know the extra $8 billion they dramatically added to the bill today does nothing to change these calculations.

And yet they look us in the eye and tell us exactly the opposite. We cannot, should not, let this go unnoticed and unopposed. To the contrary, I hope that every Member of Congress goes to vote tomorrow with the credo of Anonymous echoing in his or her mind: We are legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us.

That’s why tomorrow’s vote is important. Spread the word.

  • Austin

 

 

 

101 Trumpnations

One hundred and one. But who’s counting? The total is too daunting.

101 image

Donald Trump in 100 days hasn’t done as much as we may have feared, and of course he’s done way less than he promised. Lots of commentary about this artificial hundred-day mark, about how Trump’s doing.

What about us? How are we doing?

Still shocked. Still disbelieving. I have friends and family who are watching and reading much less news. Thoreau said that, once you know trains can crash, you don’t need to know every time a train crashes. I’m reading and watching somewhat less. So little of what’s in the headlines and on the air is surprising: Trump guts environmental protections, Trump proposes tax breaks for the rich. We need to know he’s doing this, but I don’t need to punish myself with each detail.

My wife, Lisa, has said for some time that, politically, things have to get worse before they get better. She started saying this when W was “selected” as she says. I hoped eight years of W would be enough to start the “better.” But I guess we need more “worse.” I can’t quite fathom that we have fourteen times as many days of Trump left as we’ve had so far — if he doesn’t quit early, bored and tired of actual work, as I believe he will. At 66 years of age, keeping my head down for four years and hoping things get better doesn’t sound as easy as it might have in 1968, at the beginning of Nixon. Or even at the beginning of Reagan, when I was 30.

Several commentators, including Andrew Sullivan, have said it’s a good thing Hillary Clinton didn’t get elected, if Congress stayed Republican. Congress would have let her accomplish less than Obama, and the right would have gone more crazy, and the Democratic Party would have suffered more in the White House than in the Wilderness, Sullivan says. Maybe there’s a silver lining there.

The hope these writers have is that Trump will screw up enough that there will be a reaction against him in both the midterms and the next presidential election, and we’ll get back to … to what? Republicans and Democrats fractured within their parties, left and right (or right and far right)? Voters who don’t understand or want to understand people who voted for the other side? A country still divided, or splintered, but one with a Democrat in the White House? I guess that’s our hope, faint though it may be.

My hope is that people who voted for Trump will see his con. But they haven’t so far. Ninety-six percent of those who voted for him still support him, some polls say. Those numbers may not yet reflect reaction to his tax plan, which benefits him to the tune of hundreds of millions, and $1.2 billion in estate tax savings, if you believe his boasts about his own wealth. Maybe those numbers will wake up some Trump voters — but are the local media in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, or Anadarko, Texas, showing who benefits and who’s getting screwed in Trump’s plan? Fox News ain’t. What will make Trump voters understand that he ran as a populist and is already governing as a plutocrat?

Trump voters are getting the circus they wanted, but not the bread. Jason Miller, a Trump campaign adviser, told the New York Times today “The 2016 election wasn’t a delicate request to challenge exiting traditions; it was a demand that our next president do things different. And while the professional political class struggles to understand what has happened to their hold on power, supporters of President Trump — the forgotten men and women he referenced in his Inaugural Address — love the change they’re seeing.” So Trump shakes things up and doesn’t follow convention, and I understand how that’s appealing. Too many politicians are to human beings what a postcard is to a real sunset. So Trump is refreshing to people tired of both Marco Rubio and Hillary Clinton poll-testing their every breath.

Trouble is, Donald Trump doesn’t give a rat’s ass about “the forgotten men and women he referenced in his Inaugural Address.” Never has. And is busily working, when he’s not golfing, at screwing them over. Will they see it, or will his flimflam bluster keep them entertained enough to not check their wallets?

Time will tell. But with an aging Supreme Court and the oceans rising … do we have 1,359 more days?

Me, I’m just glad baseball season started. Even reruns of West Wing (our fifth time through) aren’t cheering me up as much as an Evan Longoria homer or rope-line toss from deep at third.

How are you all doing?

— Bruce Benidt

 

WWASD?

lead_960“What would Andrew Shepherd do?”

Liberals (or “hyper liberals” as I was recently called) of a certain age have something of a wet dream fantasy about the 1990s movie The American President. For those of you who haven’t seen it or have forgotten it, it’s the gauzy reimagining of the Clinton presidency without the messy bits of scandal and – prominently –  without the First Lady.  With snappier dialogue, better cheekbones and a tragicom plot line of the widowed President Andrew Shepherd raising a daughter and finding love in the Lincoln bedroom, it’s a reliable feel-good movie on a lazy, rainy Sunday afternoon. Spoiler alert: turns out it’s possible to be an ethical, honest elected official, speak the truth, fix the economy, settle the debate on gun control, eviscerate the politics of division and get the girl.

Thus, in times of controversy, we liberals of a certain age are prone to ask the question, “What would Andrew Shepherd do?”

Fortunately, Aaron Sorkin anticipated just the sort of event we’ve seen play out this week and it’s an instructional – albeit fictional – bit of content:

INT. THE SITUATION ROOM – NIGHT. SHEPHERD, A.J., the SECRETARY OF STATE, the SECRETARY OF DEFENSE, and about a dozen or so Pentagon, Security Council, and Joint Chiefs OFFICIALS are doing exactly what they’re trained for.

CHAIRMAN (continuing) “…The F-18’s are fired up on the Kimitz and the Kitty Hawk. They’re just waiting for your attack order, Mr. President.”

SHEPHERD “And we’re gonna hit Libyan Intelligence Headquarters?”

MAN “The N.S.A. confirmed they’re the ones who planned the bombing.”

CHIEF OF STAFF “What’s the estimate?”

GENERAL “We’ll level the building.”

SHEPHERD “Libyan I.H.Q’s in the middle of downtown Tripoli — are we gonna hit anything else?”

GENERAL “Only if we miss.”

SHEPHERD “Are we gonna miss?”

GENERAL “No, sir.”

SHEPHERD “How many people work in that building?”

CHAIRMAN “We’ve been all through–”

SHEPHERD “How many people work in the damn building?”

DEPUTY “I’ve got those number here. There are three shifts, so it–”

SHEPHERD “The fewest. What shift puts the fewest people in the building? The night shift, right?”

DEPUTY “By far. Mostly custodial staff and a few–”

SHEPHERD “What time does the night crew go on?”

DEPUTY “They’re on now, sir.”

SHEPHERD “A.J.?”

CHIEF OF STAFF: “It’s immediate, it’s decisive, it’s low risk, and it’s a proportional response.”

SHEPHERD Someday somebody’s going to have to explain to me the virtue of a proportional response.

There’s a SILENCE. SHEPHERD gets up and starts to head out the door.

CHAIRMAN “Mr. President?”

SHEPHERD “Attack.”

CUT TO: INT. OVAL OFFICE – NIGHT

SHEPHERD is with CHIEF OF STAFF and a couple of AIDES, all of whom look as though they’ve been called out of their homes in the middle of the night.

CHIEF OF STAFF “Robin, as soon as our planes have cleared Libyan airspace, you can call the press. I don’t know when we’ll have the full B.D.A.–”

AIDE 1 “General Rork says around O-Eight Hundred.”

AIDE 2 “Sir, what do you think about a national address?”

SHEPHERD “The last thing I want to do is put the Libyans center stage.”

AIDE 3 “I think it’s a great idea, sir. You know Rumson’s gonna be talking about your lack of military service.”

SHEPHERD “This isn’t about Rumson. What I did tonight was not about political gain.”

AIDE 3 “But it can be, sir. What you did tonight was very presidential.”

SHEPHERD “Leon, somewhere in Libyan right now there’s a janitor working the night shift at the Libyan Intelligence Headquarters. He’s going about his job ’cause he has no idea that in about an hour he’s gonna die in a massive explosion. He’s just going about his job ’cause he has no idea that an hour ago I gave an order to have him killed. You just saw me do the least presidential thing I do.”

AIDE 3 “Yes, sir.”

I’ve never been in the White House situation room. I’ve never been a part of a decision like this. I can’t say definitively what President Trump’s decision making process was in terms of if and how we should respond to Syria’s gassing of its citizens. I can only judge by what I can observe from afar, what I know of Mr. Trump by studying him over the last year or so and what’s reported in the not-fake news. Based on those sources, it appears to me that Mr. Trump’s decision to dramatically increase our engagement in one of the most difficult geopolitical issues in the world went something like this:

“”Oh, look at what’s on TV now…That’s terrible…this Assad guy is a bad dude…I want to punch him in the nose…that’ll show him who’s in charge…I’ll tell the generals….oh, look at what’s on TV now…”

I also suspect that President Trump does not see his decision as “the least presidential thing I do” but just the opposite. My profound fear is that he enjoyed this exercise of presidential power – 59 cruise missiles is a pretty substantial mood shifter – and that it felt good. I fear that he’s right now watching television again and seeing people across the political spectrum praise him (or at least not criticize him so robustly as on other issues) and thinking, “That worked…people like it…we have lots of those missiles…nobody likes that North Korean guy…I want to punch him in the nose…that’ll show him who’s in charge…China will respect us…I’ll tell the generals….”

In other words, not an Andrew Shepherd moment.

  • Austin

 

The Haberdasher, the General and the Imposter

Harry Truman, commenting about General Dwight Eisenhower succeeding him in the Oval Office, said, “He’s going to sit at this desk and say ‘Do this’ and ‘Do that’ — and nothing’s going to happen.”

As a general, Ike could order people to do things and they’d do them. As president, not so much.

Truman would be amused, but not surprised, watching Donald Trump struggle in the office the haberdasher once occupied. As a businessman, Trump could give orders to his minions and the orders would be followed. Dealing with people now who aren’t on his payroll and who aren’t afraid of him, he’s flopping around, mouth gaping, like a fish tossed on shore.

Giving Orders - WWI

It’s one more piece of evidence that the notion of running the government like a business is so very wrong. It’s wrong because it doesn’t work, and it’s wrong because, philosophically, it’s way off base. Business exists — especially in the grubby hands of bandits like Trump — for private enrichment. The government exists to advance and protect the common good.

It’s very clear that Trump and his family and his henchmen are blurring the line between running the government to serve others and running it to serve themselves. The ethical conflicts of interest Trump and his family have are so numerous and so glaring that there’s hardly a decision the president can make that doesn’t have a financial impact on him and his family. From pipelines to banks to hotels, Trump is using our tax money and mortgaging our national security to fill his Scrooge McDuck money bins. I think he can’t see any difference between his private pelf and the public good. That moral vacancy is frightening.

Business works to increase efficiency to grow shareholder value. And who are the largest shareholders? The white guys who run the company. The impact of business decisions that increase share prices or increase the sales and value of private companies is often damage to the community and the company’s employees. Government decisions have to take into consideration the impact on the public, on the economy, on the nation’s resources and the environment for decades and centuries to come, and on the nation’s security, values and reputation.

Whether it’s a toll road or a privately-built and -run prison or a school or retirement savings, the model of increasing shareholder value just does not cover all the bases. Even without Trump owning stock in two companies involved in the Dakota Access Pipeline, his coziness with big banks and big energy companies makes his approval of the pipeline  at the least raise questions about his motives — serve the public, protect the environment or backscratch his cronies? A spokesminion claims Trump has sold his stock in the pipeline partners — but with his history of lying and his refusal to release his tax returns, who can know?

Government is not a business. It has very different aims and responsibilities than a business has. Its moral purposes are completely different.

It’s actually refreshing to see Trump fail using his corporate pirate tricks. As a business bully he could get away with not knowing the details of the projects he was hustling. Underlings could marshall the facts and figures while figurehead Donald handled the bluster and the bullshit. When he didn’t know much of anything about the healthcare bill he was pushing, House members were shocked, and mocked him.

Trump said over and over during the campaign that he would make great deals. Snarking about President Obama playing golf, Trump said he would probably never play golf (!!!) as president because he’d just want to stay in the White House and make deals. But a president’s deal-making ability has to be in service of something, as LBJ’s was with Medicaid and the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. Trump just likes to make deals, and then skips town before his victims can heat up the tar and pluck the feathers. And deal-making is only part of what a president does. Other qualities — leadership, inspiration, fairness, judgment, steadiness in crises, compassion, empathy, vision, diplomacy — are just as important. And absent in the current Oval Office pretender.

Harry Truman must have been smiling wryly if he paid attention, from wherever dead presidents reside, as Trump’s odious consigliere, Steve Bannon, tried to carry The Boss’s orders to vote for the Frankenstein health care bill to the Freedom Caucus in the House. Bannon tried the strong arm, telling them “Guys, look. This is not a discussion. This is not a debate. You have no choice but to vote for this bill.” Might have worked for LBJ, a master of carrots, sticks, pork and human nature. Didn’t work for the windbag who told us we’d be tired of winning by this time. One Freedom Caucus member — bless his pointed little head — replied to Bannon: “You know, the last time someone ordered me to do something, I was 18 years old. And it was my daddy. And I didn’t listen to him, either.”

My friend Dave Kuhn, a fellow recovering journalist, taught me so much about helping senior executives deal effectively with the media. People from the military and business don’t like the press, Dave said, because it’s one of the few things they can’t control. So they’re not very good at handling the challenges journalists throw at them or at letting criticism slide off their backs.

Trump’s efforts at strong-arming the media aren’t any more successful than his orders to the House members of his own party have been. And thank god for that.

— Bruce Benidt

Bad Sci-Fi Movies and Real-World AI

LifeContinuing my theme of doing things other than fret about Donald Trump, I have spent some time fretting about other existential threats to humanity. So, that’s healthy.

Specifically, I’ve spent the last half day thinking about the threat of alien invasions and runaway artificial intelligence. One of them you can consign to the bottom of your worry list; the other probably deserves a higher spot on the list, somewhere below Donald Trump but above death panels and “radical Islamic terrorism.”

The topic of alien invasions is the overt theme of the movie I saw last night: Life, directed by Daniel Espinosa and starring, among others, Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson and Ryan Reynolds. Without giving away the plot, it explores the question of what happens when humanity encounters a lifeform that turns out to be smarter and more dangerous than it appears. Suffice it to say not all ends well for our gender- and ethnic-balanced crew aboard the International Space Station.

Despite the title of this post, the movie is not actually bad; it’s suspenseful and engaging. As I watched it, though, I was struck by how shitty the science was. As the investigators probed the alien lifeform, they repeatedly demonstrated all sorts of stupid, unrealistic practices. They let a single investigator engage in isolation with the lifeform to the extent he loses perspective. They do not do carefully measured experiments to determine both what sustains the organism and what kills it. When it demonstrates exponential growth and unexpected abilities, the researchers don’t react to this with caution but instead step on the accelerator. And, when things go wrong, they discover that their failsafe mechanisms are either non-existent or simply failures. Any epidemiologist or biologist working with potentially hazardous organisms would have been appalled.

The good news is that we’re not out scooping up biomass from other planets and bringing it back to Earth. There’s also every reason to think that the product of other evolutionary forces would not be particularly compatible with Earth’s. And, finally, there’s the fact that – despite the fact that we’ve been actively looking for decades, there’s very little sign of life – particularly intelligent life – outside of our little blue ball despite the fact that it’s a very, very big universe. This is known as the Fermi Paradox. My best guess is that you can put this issue way, way down on your list of things to worry about.

Which brings me to the other one, the existential threat of runaway artificial intelligence.

AIAs I was driving home from the theater, it occurred to me that the movie was actually a commentary on the how we – not you or me, but some VERY smart people – are approaching the field of AI. As near as I can tell, we are using the same shitty scientific methods – the ones that would make any life science researcher cringe – to develop this technology. We have researchers all across the world laboring in secret, scientists who are less objective researchers and more would-be parents who are enraptured with the idea of strong AI or even the Singularity. Instead of running carefully controlled experiments and building in rigorous “kill steps,” AI is being deployed today in the real world – in Teslas, in fraud detection systems, in your washing machine, writing both press releases and news stories, in your favorite search engine, in the warehouses of your favorite retailer, as robo-calls and a thousand other ways. And, even though these creations are demonstrating unexpectedly rapid growth and ability (an AI-driven computer recent beat the world’s best Go players – widely considered an incredibly hard game – 60 games to none; a computer program performed a similar fear against some of the world’s best poker players), researchers are plowing onward at even faster rates.

This is perhaps not the smartest thing we’ve ever done. And, it’s not just me, your friendly blogger, who thinks so. Smart guys like Bill Gates and Elon Musk are worried about this. So are really smart guys like Stephen Hawking.

By way of fair disclosure, there are plenty of very smart people – Ray Kurzweil perhaps foremost among them – who believe the coming era of big AI will usher in an unprecedented era for humanity, giving us access to pretty much everything and an infinite lifespan to experience it. That seems like a better outcome, but this point of view is a little cultish and perhaps optimistic without hard, objective reasons. Life – whether artificial or otherwise – constantly finds ways to break out of whatever boxes it gets put into. Including the boxes we build.

If you’re inclined to read more on this, Vanity Fair coincidentally published a long interview with Musk on this topic. It is worth the 20 minutes or so it will take you and give you something to worry about instead of Trump.

There. Doesn’t that make you feel better instead of worrying about the latest cluster fuck from the White House? Next week, I’ll write about the threats of pandemics and global warming. Just call me Mr. Good News.

  • Austin

 

 

 

Thought for the Week

If for no other reason than my own sanity, I have to occasionally write on something other than the giant smoldering crater that is our president. In that spirit, a thought from one of  my favorite authors – even today – Robert Heinlein. The “science” of his science fiction is mostly lacking but many of his characters taught me lessons worth learning:

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

I’m still a few skills short, but I’m still learning. What else should be on the list?

  • Austin