Progressive International: Yanis Varoufakis & Bernie Sanders Launch New Global Movement Against Far Right

You can join here: https://www.progressive-international.org/join/

Interview: https://www.democracynow.org/2018/12/7/progressive_international_yanis_varoufakis_bernie_sanders

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I wrote my first Sci-Fi novel in 22 days

Attention nerds and nerdettes!

I have just finished my first sci-fi-ish satire-ish novel in 22 days. It’s called Hyperworld_01_Awakening and it’s about the emergence of Artificial Superintelligence and its immediate aftermath. It has real science, real nerd jokes, and hard-core explicit philosophy. Coming soon to your electric bookshelves.

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Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now – by Jaron Lanier (2018)

Not that this book has changed my opinion of social media. I am glad someone took the trouble to articulate the problems. I have, however, already reduced drastically my presence on social media.

Link to book: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/37830765-ten-arguments-for-deleting-your-social-media-accounts-right-now

The Ten Arguments are:

Argument One: You Are Losing Your Free Will / Welcome To The Cage That Goes Everywhere With You

Argument Two: Quitting Social Media Is The Most Finely Targeted Way To Resist The Insanity Of Our Times

Argument Three: Social Media Is Making You Into An Asshole

Argument Four: Social Media Is Undermining Truth

Argument Five: Social Media Is Making What You Say Meaningless

Argument Six: Social Media Is Destroying Your Capacity For Empathy

Argument Seven: Social Media Is Making You Unhappy

Argument Eight: Social Media Doesn’t Want You To Have Economic Dignity

Argument Nine: Social Media Is Making Politics Impossible

Argument Ten: Social Media Hates Your Soul

Some noteworthy quotes:

Seems like a good moment to coin an acronym so I don’t have to repeat, over and over, the same account of the pieces that make up the problem. How about “Behaviors of Users Modified, and Made into an Empire for Rent”? BUMMER.

BUMMER is a machine, a statistical machine that lives in the computing clouds. To review, phenomena that are statistical and fuzzy are nevertheless real. Even at their best, BUMMER algorithms can only calculate the chances that a person will act in a particular way. But what might be only a chance for each person approaches being a certainty on the average for large numbers of people. The overall population can be affected with greater predictability than can any single person.

BUMMER is a machine with six moving parts.

Here’s a mnemonic for the six components of the BUMMER machine, in case you ever have to remember them for a test:

A is for Attention Acquisition leading to Asshole supremacy

B is for Butting into everyone’s lives

C is for Cramming content down people’s throats

D is for Directing people’s behaviors in the sneakiest way possible

E is for Earning money from letting the worst assholes secretly screw with everyone else

F is for Fake mobs and Faker society

According to reporting by the New York Times, the going rate for fake people on Twitter in early 2018 was $225 for the first 25,000 fake followers. The fake accounts might be mash-ups of accounts from real people; on casual inspection, they seem real. Celebrities, businesses, politicians, and a more modern pool of cyber-bad-actor customers all make use of fake-people factories. The companies that sell fake people are often fake as well. (The Times found that one prominent bot service listed a fake address.) Link: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/01/27/technology/social-media-bots.html

A Assholes change discourse into discharge. They turn the Solitary/Pack switch to Pack, which makes people pay so much attention to social status competition that they can become blinded to everything else, to any broader or more fundamental truth.

B Tech companies spy on you, Butting into your life. The perception of truth requires that people be authentic, so that they can perceive authentically. This principle was explained in the analogy of the jelly beans in the jar. When people are constantly prodded by spying technologies, they lose authenticity.

C Cramming experiences down your throat. When what people can be made to perceive is the product sold by some of the richest corporations, then obviously truth must suffer. The loss of truth is the product.

D Directing lives through ubiquitous behavior modification. When engineered addictions are applied to manipulate masses of people for commercial gain, obviously those masses become removed from truth. That is precisely the point.

E Earning money by letting some people, often nasty ones, secretly modify the behaviors of other people. Economic incentives tend to win over rules, policies, and good intentions, as will be explained in the Argument to come about economics. Therefore, incentives in BUMMER often disfavor truth. At best, they aren’t aligned with truth.

F Fake people have no reason to tell the truth. Indeed, truth is suicide to a fake person. But fake people have been bred and amplified by BUMMER.

Truth, meaning a claim that can be tested or events that are honestly documented—the stuff that all people can hold in common—is by definition anathema to the manipulations of BUMMER. BUMMER must often route around truth and attempt to suppress it in order to thrive.

BETTER THAN BUMMER

One way is to directly monetize services such as search and social media. You’d pay a low monthly fee to use them, but if you contributed a lot—if your posts, videos, or whatever are popular—you could also earn some money. A large number of people, instead of the tiny number of token stars in the present system, would earn money. (I acknowledge, of course, that there would have to be a way of making services available to those who couldn’t afford to pay even a small fee.)

I’m making a fuss about the potential to earn because a system like this would help address looming losses of employment due to AI and automation. We’re talking about an industry that supports some of the richest companies the world has ever known, and it’s all driven by data that comes from people who are often being told that they’re about to be obsolete, that they’ll need to go on the public dole with a basic income system. It just isn’t right to tell people they are no longer valuable to society when the biggest companies exist only because of data that comes from those same people.

The purpose of life, according to BUMMER, is to optimize. According to Google: “Organize the world’s information.” But per the typical Silicon Valley worldview, everything is information. Matter will be hacked, the human body will be hacked, and so on. Therefore, Google’s mission statement reads, within tech culture, as “Organize all reality.” That’s why Google started all those weird Alphabet companies. You might not have thought about Google’s worldview or mission, but you buy into it when you optimize your presence to rank high in search or optimize your video for views. The purpose of your life is now to optimize. You have been baptized.

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CONSIDER THE TURKEY: THOUGHTS FOR THANKSGIVING by Peter Singer

From Ethics in the real world : 86 brief essays on things that matter

WHEN I TEACH PRACTICAL ETHICS, I encourage my students to take the arguments we discuss outside the classroom and talk to friends and family about them. For Americans, there is no better occasion for a conversation about the ethics of what we eat than Thanksgiving, the holiday at which, more than any other, families come together around a meal. With that in mind, I arrange the topics in my course so that issues about food and ethics arise just before Thanksgiving.

The traditional centerpiece of the Thanksgiving meal is a turkey, so that is the obvious place to start the conversation. According to the National Turkey Federation, about 46 million turkeys are killed for Thanksgiving each year, a substantial part of the 300 million turkeys Americans eat annually. The vast majority of them—at least 99 percent—are raised on factory farms. In many respects, their lives are like those of factory-farmed chickens. The newly hatched turkeys are raised in incubators and then, before they are sent to the producers to be raised, at a time when chickens are debeaked, the young turkeys undergo that too, and also have their talons cut off, and for male turkeys, their snood—the fleshy erectile protuberance that grows from the forehead of a male turkey. All this is done without anesthetic, despite the pain it clearly causes. The beak, for example, is not just a horny substance like a fingernail. It is full of nerves that enable a free-living turkey to peck at the ground and distinguish something edible from something that is not.

The reason for these mutilations is that the birds are about to be placed in dim, poorly ventilated sheds, where they will live out the rest of their lives crowded together with thousands of other birds. The air reeks of ammonia from the birds’ droppings, which accumulate for the four or five months that the turkeys are in the sheds. In these unnatural and stressful conditions, turkeys will peck or claw at other birds, and cannibalism can occur. The snood is removed because it is often a target for pecking from other birds.

When the birds reach market weight, they are deprived of food and water, rounded up, often in a very rough manner (undercover videos show turkeys being picked up and thrown into shipping crates) and transported to slaughter. Each year, hundreds of thousands don’t even make it to slaughter—they die from the stress of the journey. If they do make it, then, again like chickens, they are still not guaranteed a humane death, because the US Department of Agriculture interprets the Humane Slaughter Act as not applying to birds.

One difference between turkeys and chickens is that turkeys have been drastically altered by breeding designed to enlarge the breast, which is considered the most desirable part of the turkey to eat. This process has gone so far that the standard American turkey, the descriptively named Broad Breasted White, is incapable of mating because the male’s big breast gets in the way. Here, I tell my students, is an interesting question to drop into a lull in conversation around the Thanksgiving dinner table. Point to the turkey on the table and ask: if turkeys can’t mate, how was that turkey produced?

Some years ago, I teamed up with Jim Mason, who grew up on a farm in Missouri, to write a book called The Ethics of What We Eat. Jim decided to see for himself how all the hundreds of millions of sexually disabled turkeys are produced. He saw that Butterball, a large industrial producer and processor of turkeys, was advertising for workers for its artificial insemination crew in Carthage, Missouri. No prior experience was required. Jim passed a drug test and was put to work. His first role was to catch the male turkeys by the legs and hold them upside down so that another worker could masturbate them. When the semen flowed out, the worker used a vacuum pump to collect it in a syringe. This was done with one bird after another until the semen, diluted with an “extender,” filled the syringe, which was then taken to the hen house.

Jim also had a spell working in the hen house, which he found worse than working with the males. Here is his account:

You grab a hen by the legs, trying to cross both “ankles” in order to hold her feet and legs with one hand. The hens weigh 20 to 30 pounds and are terrified, beating their wings and struggling in panic. They go through this every week for more than a year, and they don’t like it. Once you have grabbed her with one hand, you flop her down, chest first, on the edge of the pit with the tail end sticking up. You put your free hand over the vent and tail and pull the rump and tail feathers upward. At the same time, you pull the hand holding the feet downward, thus “breaking” the hen so that her rear is straight up and her vent open. The inseminator sticks his thumb right under the vent and pushes, which opens it further until the end of the oviduct is exposed. Into this, he inserts a straw of semen connected to the end of a tube from an air compressor and pulls a trigger, releasing a shot of compressed air that blows the semen solution from the straw and into the hen’s oviduct. Then you let go of the hen and she flops away.

Jim was supposed to “break” one hen every 12 seconds, 300 an hour, for 10 hours a day. He had to dodge spurting shit from panicked birds, and torrents of verbal abuse from the foreman if he didn’t keep up the pace. It was, he told me, “the hardest, fastest, dirtiest, most disgusting, worst-paid work I have ever done.”

Back to the Thanksgiving table. Now that the family understands exactly how the bird they are eating came into existence, and what kind of a life and death it has had, I suggest to my students that they canvass opinions on whether it is ethical to support this way of treating animals. If the answer is no, then something needs to be changed for next year’s Thanksgiving, because our willingness to purchase industrially produced turkeys is the only incentive the turkey industry needs to continue to treat turkeys with so little respect for their interests.

There are other options. A heritage turkey, of a breed able to mate, raised on pasture and not mutilated, will cost you about four times as much, pound for pound, as a factory-farmed one, but at least you will know that the bird had a good life. Or will you? There have been allegations of fraud against producers who keep a few hundred turkeys in humane conditions outdoors, but sell several times that many turkeys, most of them birds who never go outside. If you really want to ensure your bird was raised outdoors, you have some work ahead of you checking the veracity of the producer.

The alternative, of course, is a plant-based Thanksgiving meal, which, as well as avoiding complicity in cruelty to animals, is better for the environment and for you too. Search for “vegetarian Thanksgiving” on the New York Times website and you’ll find plenty of delicious seasonal recipes suited for the occasion. Or if you don’t want to cook, you can always buy a tofurkey.

People will say that turkey is traditional at Thanksgiving. In fact it isn’t clear if the pilgrims ate wild turkey at that first Thanksgiving in 1621, but one thing is sure: they didn’t eat a factory-farmed Broad Breasted White.

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Nature or Nurture

From: DNA : the story of the genetic revolution by James D. Watson (2017)

The unexpectedly low human gene count provoked several op-ed page ruminations on its significance. These tended toward a common theme. Stephen Jay Gould (whose premature death tragically silenced an impassioned voice), writing in the New York Times, hailed the low count as the death knell of reductionism, the reigning doctrine of virtually all biological inquiry. This doctrine holds that complex systems are built from the bottom up. Put another way: To understand events at complex levels of organization, we must first understand them at simpler levels and piece together these simpler dynamics. And so it follows that by understanding the workings of the genome, we will ultimately understand how organisms are assembled. Gould and others took the surprisingly small human gene count as evidence that such a bottom-up approach is not only unworkable but also invalid. In light of its unexpected genetic simplicity, the human organism, argued the antireductionists, was living proof that we cannot begin to understand ourselves in relation to a sum of smaller processes. To them, our low gene number implied that nurture, not nature, must be the primary determinant of who each one of us is. It was, in short, a declaration of independence from the tyranny supposedly exercised by our genes.

Like Gould, I well appreciate that nurture plays an important part in shaping each of us. His evaluation of nature’s role, however, is utterly wrong: our low gene count by no means invalidates a reductionist approach to biological systems, nor does it justify any logical inference that we are not determined by our genes. A fertilized egg containing a chimp genome still inevitably produces a chimp, while a fertilized egg containing a human genome produces a human. No amount of exposure to classical music or violence on TV could make it otherwise. Yes, we have a long way to go in developing our understanding of just how the information in those two remarkably similar genomes is applied to the task of producing two apparently very different organisms, but the fact remains that the greatest part of what each individual organism will be is programmed ineluctably into its every cell, in the genome. In fact, I see our discovery of a low human gene count as good news for standard reductionist approaches to biology: it’s much easier to sort through the effects of 21,000 genes than 100,000.

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Superintelligence: Science or Fiction?

A noteworthy conversation!

Elon Musk, Stuart Russell, Ray Kurzweil, Demis Hassabis, Sam Harris, Nick Bostrom, David Chalmers, Bart Selman, and Jaan Tallinn discuss with Max Tegmark (moderator) what likely outcomes might be if we succeed in building human-level AGI, and also what we would like to happen.

The Beneficial AI 2017 Conference: In our sequel to the 2015 Puerto Rico AI conference, we brought together an amazing group of AI researchers from academia and industry, and thought leaders in economics, law, ethics, and philosophy for five days dedicated to beneficial AI. We hosted a two-day workshop for our grant recipients and followed that with a 2.5-day conference, in which people from various AI-related fields hashed out opportunities and challenges related to the future of AI and steps we can take to ensure that the technology is beneficial.

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AI Aftermath Scenarios

From Life 3.0 : being human in the age of artificial intelligence by Max Tegmark

Libertarian utopia

Humans, cyborgs, uploads and superintelligences coexist peacefully thanks to property rights.

Benevolent dictator

Everybody knows that the AI runs society and enforces strict rules, but most people view this as a good thing.

Egalitarian utopia

Humans, cyborgs and uploads coexist peacefully thanks to property abolition and guaranteed income.

Gatekeeper

A superintelligent AI is created with the goal of interfering as little as necessary to prevent the creation of another superintelligence. As a result, helper robots with slightly subhuman intelligence abound, and human-machine cyborgs exist, but technological progress is forever stymied.

Protector god

Essentially omniscient and omnipotent AI maximizes human happiness by intervening only in ways that preserve our feeling of control of our own destiny and hides well enough that many humans even doubt the AI’s existence.

Enslaved god

A superintelligent AI is confined by humans, who use it to produce unimaginable technology and wealth that can be used for good or bad depending on the human controllers.

Conquerors

AI takes control, decides that humans are a threat/nuisance/waste of resources, and gets rid of us by a method that we don’t even understand.

Descendants

AIs replace humans, but give us a graceful exit, making us view them as our worthy descendants, much as parents feel happy and proud to have a child who’s smarter than them, who learns from them and then accomplishes what they could only dream of—even if they can’t live to see it all.

Zookeeper

An omnipotent AI keeps some humans around, who feel treated like zoo animals and lament their fate.

1984

Technological progress toward superintelligence is permanently curtailed not by an AI but by a humanled Orwellian surveillance state where certain kinds of AI research are banned.

Reversion

Technological progress toward superintelligence is prevented by reverting to a pre-technological society in the style of the Amish.

Selfdestruction

Superintelligence is never created because humanity drives itself extinct by other means (say nuclear and/or biotech mayhem fueled by climate crisis).

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