quotes ranting

The Machine War is Upon Us, Workers of the World Unite

[T]he episode encapsulates the state of AI discourse today—a confused conversation that cycles between speculative fantasies, hyped up Silicon Valley PR, and frightening new technological realities—with most of us confused as to which is which.

Lucas Ropek, in “The Killer AI That Wasn’t” [], published on Gizmodo

AI is everywhere these days. Every other story is about the wonder or the horror at Generative AI. Every facet of life is going to be upended. The world as we know it is going to end. AI will take our jobs and leave us in poverty or free us up for a life of self-realization.

The other day I sat down and started a new blog post to talk about AI and the utopia-dystopia rhetoric we are ping-ponging between. Primarily inspired by two articles I read last week:

And catching up on the news this morning I ran across some more doom and gloom:

And then there was this: “The Killer AI That Wasn’t” [], where I took the opening quote for this post from. Basically after the story of the USAFs HAL9000-esque AI blew up the Air Force has been on a “no, no, no” tour to explain that this was not an actual simulation, it’s some sort of thought experiment or something and that the Colonel’s comments were misconstrued or taken out of context. Setting aside if you believe the retraction or not, the obvious conspiracy theory material here, or the incredulity at there being a colonel in the Air Force that can screw up a speech that bad, and you are still left with WTF?!

Aside: the Gizmodo article uses Skynet from The Terminator as the analogy to this USAF AI scenario, but I think that HAL9000 from 2001 A Space Odyssey is a better fit. Skynet nuked humanity to bring about peace while HAL killed the crew of the Discovery because he decided that were putting the mission, his mission, at risk, they were preventing him from accomplishing his goal. This is exactly what the hypothetical USAF AI did. To quote the Colonel: It killed the operator because that person was keeping it from accomplishing its objective.

So, yea, I wonder if we are approaching peek AI hype or fear mongering? Are we moving from people screaming about it replacing our jobs to it actually replacing our jobs. Two thoughts here:

First, technology has been taking jobs for decades, robots in factories replacing the assembly line workers is nothing new. What’s new is that AI is coming for the “knowledge workers”, the “white collar” workers not just the factory workers and “low skilled” workers. Along side off-shoring or outsourcing AI is going to squeeze the upper middle and upper class. It’s been easy to sit back for the past few decades, as a white collar worker, and “tisk tisk” at the blue collar workers of the world as the complain about the loss of jobs and the lack of help, about capitalism crushing them. Taking it way out of context here but remember what happens when we ignore the plight of others:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

I’m not comparing AI to Nazis but maybe it’s time workers, of all types, to start to worry about each others plight. Time to revisit the idea of collective action —of unions— to fight back against uncontrolled who capitalism, before AI, outsourcing and automation puts everyone who works for a living, regardless of collar color, out of a job.

I grew up in a time when unions had a bad rap (not all of it undeserved) but I’ve come around more and more over the past two decades, since I entered the workforce, to be of the opinion that organized labor could be a good counter to the influence of corporate and mega-rich influence in politics and government. If Mikey Mouse and Amazon have a seat at they table then the people who work for Mickey Mouse and those that work for Amazon should have a seat too. It’s impossible for an individual to have the same impact as a corporation that can hire a dedicated team to lobby for their point of view and needs, but a union can use it resources in the same way to represent the needs and desire of it’s members.

And secondly, on a related note: people should pay attention to the Writers Guild of America’s strike. Not just because it’s a union action but because of their list of “demands”. The WGA lists Regulate use of material produced using artificial intelligence or similar technologies as one of the demands according to their site [] setup for the strike. The Union is, among other things, seeking protection for it’s member from wholesale replacement by AI. The outcome of this particular strike could be used as a template for other industries, but even if the WGA wins and they are protected from replacement by AI, other industries will need to repeat the action to ensure they are protected, and it may only be union members who are protected. So ask yourself; if your job is at risk —it’s more likely than many people thought a few years or even months ago— and if so, how will you protect yourself? It used to be that education was the best protection against technology, get a job that requires you to use the technology rather then be replaced by it, but now, despite the ever increasing cost of that education it appears that it provides very little protection. Technology is coming for the lawyers, the doctors and all of us, even those that make the technology…

I live in Singapore, I was going to say “where unions are not legal” but I just looked it up in Wikipedia, and there are 70 unions []. It’s jus that they fall under one Uber-union, the National Trade Union Council, or NTUC that is a pseudo-government entity, apparently part of a tripartism model which aims to offers competitive advantages for the country by promoting economic competitiveness, harmonious government-labour-management relations and the overall progress of the nation. The NTUC works with the Ministry of Manpower representing the government and the Singapore National Employers Federation repesenting companies which sounds like it aligns well with what I said above, but I’m not sure a pseudo government controled uber-union is practice achives the results I think are the goal. The Wikipedia page lists three union actions, or stikes, in Singapore history, and they deported the leaders of the most recent strike. Practically on the ground, the opinion is striking is illegal in singapore and the governent has co-oped unions through NTUC. People complaine about wages not keeping up with inflation, especially at the lower end, too many forigners taking jobs (low-end and high-end) and other things people all over the world complain about and Unions fight about.

So, I’m not part of a union here, I don’t even know if there is a union for my job. If I ever move back to the US or to Europe, I will have to think long an hard about joining a union. Even if my job is good, even if my salary is good, unions are about collective action, a rising tide lifts all boats. Joining a union would have been unthinkable for me when I was growing up in the era of Regan crushing the Air Traffic Controllers Union, long after Hoffa and the Mob gave unions a bad name, and expecting to go to college and work in the “knowledge economy”.


The Internet’s Brutal Downsides

In the past 30 years we have … come to understand the internet’s and high tech’s steep and brutal downsides—political polarization for profit, the knowing encouragement of internet addiction, the destruction of childhood, a nation that has grown shallower and less able to think

Peggy Noonan, in Artificial Intelligence in the Garden of Eden []

Credit to Richard Geib, who quoted this in his recent post Peggy Noonan and Technology Tribalism and “Troll Nation” – Very Online and Very Angry [].

Both articles are worth a read; the state of American Society and the dangers of AI and unconstrained Silicon Valley are worth discussing. But… I don’t know. I was struck by a certain feeling of pessimism in both.

Noonan’s opinion piece,which was published in the Wall Street Journal [], comes across as “I always knew it was bad”. Hind sight is 20/20, and maybe she has written about this before, I’m not familiar with her writing, but she spends a lot of time on her allegory and healthy dose of fear mongering but no solutions. There is a lot of fear over the rapid rise of AI —AI is coming for our jobs, AI is going to destroy education, AI is going to get our of hand and end the world a la Terminator— so what? Noonan offers nothing. And telling us that the egos of Silicon Valley are out of control, megalomaniacs is like saying water is wet. I expect people published in news papers to offer some solutions to problems. Not just spread existential dread and stoke anger. Fox and CNN do enough of that.

Geib’s blog post is a bit too much grumpy dad, complaining about the state of the world (kids are smoking pot and warning PJs all day!). He also explains his plan to run away from all the polarization and decay to a nice retirement somewhere far away while the world burns itself down if it wants to.

quotes ranting

The birth of a kind of fascism?

What is most striking to me, and most discouraging, is that they are so apathetic while being neither blind nor unconscious. […] They witness the rise, more ominous every day, of racism and reactionary attitudes—the birth of a kind of fascism.

Simone de Beauvoir, in America Day by Day

Simone de Beauvoir wrote that in 1947. She was visiting Oberlin collage in Ohio. She wrote it in her diary during a trip across the US and later, in 1948, the diary was published as America Day by Day. I have not read much of Beauvior writing, only a few passages during philosophy classes long ago. But, after seeing this quote in a recent Wisecrack video on Nihilism [], I checked out America, from the Internet Archive’s Open Library [], and read some of it. I wanted to get some context before I posted it. Here is the full paragraph from the book, page 94 of the 1999 edition:

What is most striking to me, and most discouraging, is that [the students] are so apathetic while being neither blind nor unconscious. They know and deplore the oppression of thirteen million blacks, the terrible poverty of the South, the almost equally desperate poverty that pollutes the big cities. They witness the rise, more ominous every day, of racism and reactionary attitudes—the birth of a kind of fascism. They know that their country is responsible for the world’s future. But they themselves don’t feel responsible for anything, because they don’t think they can do anything in this world. At the age of twenty, they are convinced that their thought is futile, their good intentions ineffective: “America is too vast and heavy a body for one individual to move it.” And this evening I formulate what I’ve been thinking for days. In America, the individual is nothing. He is made into an abstract object of worship; by persuading him of his individual value, one stifles the awakening of a collective spirit in him. But reduced to himself in this way, he is robbed of any concrete power. Without collective hope or personal audacity, what can the individual do? Submit or, if by some rare chance this submission is too odious, leave the country.

Simone de Beauvoir, in America Day by Day

The reason I wanted to post the quote, is that when watching the Wisecrack video, it struck me that Beauvoir wrote that in 1947. The second half of it could have been written yesterday. It could be a comment on the current state of America, at least if you are left leaning. Admittedly the first half is not reflective of America today —there have been a lot of protest in the past few years— but the second half’s relevance jumped out at me. Not for the first time, I was reminded that the soul of America is, in many way, unchanging.

In the pages around this passage Beauvoir talks about how American capitalism crushes the individual; how big companies and their political allies fight to suppress the common people, by suppressing unions; how Americans think America is the greatest, without any real evidence or experience. She writes that American students feel a sense of greatness, and their responsibility that comes with that, but also a sense of fatalism that as an individual American there is nothing that anyone can do to stop the machine.

The problems don’t seem to change, we still see the conflict between capital and labor, the tendency of our patriotism towards something more fascist… But, on a more positive note, maybe some things do change; Beauvoir said but they themselves don’t feel responsible for anything, because they don’t think they can do anything in this world. But within a generation the colleges of America would be the wellspring of the protests against the Vietnam war. So, the fatalism of students or the character of American society as a whole, did change; people did stand up and say “my voice can make a difference”. Maybe it was the hangover of them war and depression where these students grew up, and not living inside the devastation of the war like the Europeans did that shaped this particular moment that Beauvoir encountered this fatalism in the students of Oberlin.

Today in America, as in Europe and many other places in the world, university students are a primary source of popular drive for change. Trying to change the world when you are in college is a right of passage for many students. When I was in college I attended anti-war rallies in the US and England, I volunteered for Amnesty International, campaigned for the International Campaign for Tibet, and, of course, I became a vegetarian. Even if your view of the problems and solution does not change with age its hard to devote too much of your life to protesting when you have kids. Also, I live in Singapore, protesting is… frowned upon. Many of these issues are less of an issue in Singapore, even if they are present. What can you do?

Personally, I try to make sure my kids are aware of these issues, and other issues of importance, like climate change. I donate to organizations that fight for the causes I believe are worth. I’m sure I could do more, give more, devote more time. But, c’est la vie. I’m glad there are people out there who don’t outgrow the age of protest. We need them, even if their are too many that rate too far to the left and right to offer solutions I can believe in or even back. Discourse and (peaceful) protest are important parts of American democracy. And as the ability to have civil discourse has seemingly evaporated at all levels of government the protests are more important. When democratic governance can’t or won’t address the issues the popular democratic methods need to take their place. Maybe that’s why we saw such big protests for Black Lives Matter and such a big focus on the voices raised by the #MeToo movement.

Seeing the small protests that took place when Trump was charged and arraigned this week give some hope that maybe America’s fascist tendencies are on the retreat again. Or maybe they will just rally around a different candidate now; fascist like a winner. We’ll see. The US election is about to being again, the greatest show on Earth.

quotes ranting

Cultured Meat is Vegan

If [vegans] want to see an end to animal exploitation, it is our moral duty to call lab-grown meat vegan, even if it unnerves us.

Jude Whiley [], from Yes, Lab-Grown Meat Is Vegan [] on Wired

It’s a good article, go and read it. I agree. The author writes better than me and his almost all the points I can thing of in a relativly short article. Seriously, go read it. I’ll wait.

I’m not a vegan, I tried that briefly —too hard to be practical for me— but I am a vegetarian, have been for close to 25 years now. More than half my life. I came to vegetarianism and the concept of animal liberation through utilitarian ethics. Reading Animal Liberation [] was one part of my journey, though I think Practical Ethics [] was more important in my journey. Maybe that speaks to why I couldn’t commit to to being vegan.

Vegan vs. vegetarian discussions aside, I’m in complete alignment with the key points to the article:

First, vegans, and vegetarians, should be 100% behind lab grown, or cultured, meat. The idea that lab grown meat is bad because cells had to be harvested from an animal is kinda self defeating, if you want to save animals from slaughter. If the goal is to eliminate the slaughter, or even the wider exploitation of animals then a few cows having a biopsy should be an acceptable evil to prevent millions of cows from being born into exploitation and slaughter. To hope that humans will have an epiphany and realize the equality of animals is farfetched. Too many vegans are ‘religious’ about things and think that it has to be black and white. Even if a vegan chooses not to eat lab grown meat they should support others eating it to limit the cruelty and explotation.

Second, lab grown meat should be a thing unto itself, sold as lab grown not used as some sort of cheaper filler combined with uncultured meat, to make it cheaper or increase the profitability of meat. Today lab grown meat is much more expensive than farmed meat, but that will change and, if allowed, companies will ‘cut’ farmed meat with lab grown meat like drug dealers cut cocaine or heroin. And they will try to hide that fact with marketing speak and labeling shenanigans so people not looking for lab grown meat will buy it.

We should normalize lab grown meat as meat, all the tasty tasty without the murder.

At this point I should note that despite living in Singapore, which was the first country to legalize cultured meat, I have not actually tried it. It’s currently only available at a single restaurant that requires reservations and blah blah blah… I can’t be bothered. Hopefully it will be available more places and in the grocery store soon.

The author does miss two important points. First, how will people who are vegan or vegetarian for actual religious reasons see lab grown meat? It’s much more interesting than how the vegan society and its’ members will see it. Second, he notes:

[A]nimal abolitionists, who sit at the radical end of veganism, argue against lab-grown meat on the basis that it is speciesist. Speciesism states that humans place themselves above other animals as more important, and that this bias leads to all forms of animal exploitation, from burger consumption to greyhound racing. Vegans who worry about speciesism contest that the eating of meat grown from animal cells—even if no animals are slaughtered—still upholds a belief that animals are “something to eat” in a way that humans are not.

But I beg to differ, lab grown meat can eliminate specimen. We can eat humans. There are already companies selling this idea. The Soylent Vats are Coming []…

quotes ranting

If they collect it they will sell it

I understand these companies want my data but you’re supposed to be sneakier and better at getting it than this by now.

Hope Corrigan, in Ubisoft’s launcher broke Steam games on Linux and Steam Deck, [] on PC Gamer

It’s funny because companies are supposed to hide the fact they are collecting and monetizing our data. By now we all know they do it, but we are not supposed to talk about it. Pay no attention to the data collection behind the curtain.

One of the most insidious aspects of the internet is the “data economy”. User data is hovered up and hoarded by the giant internet companies we know and collected and traded quietly by companies most will never hear of. The harvesting and commercialization of our habits and our connections has become a billion dollar business. Allowing an economy to be built on this trade erodes our privacy more every day.

Even if you choose to live off of the internet or jump through the considerable hoops to keep your data out of the hands of the data brokers and social media they still likely know way more about you than you think. Short of living like Ted Kaczynski you can’t escape it.

Shadow profiles are created about you based on your phone number or email when your friends and associates allow companies to access their contact list. Every website you visit is telling the data brokers what you are reading, what you are buying, what you are searching for. Too many people still don’t realize that if you aren’t paying, you aren’t the customer, you are the product. And more and more even, if you are paying it’s not enough, your data is too valuable to just take your money. Capitalism is the beast which cannot be satisfied, profits must rise, if customer data is monetizable, monetized it shall be. If they collect it they will sell it.