A new study shows people may be censoring themselves without realizing it.
Nafeez Ahmed reports: Thanks largely to whistleblower Edward Snowden’s revelations in 2013, most Americans now realize that the intelligence community monitors and archives all sorts of online behaviors of both foreign nationals and US citizens.
But did you know that the very fact that you know this could have subliminally stopped you from speaking out online on issues you care about?
“What this research shows is that in the presence of surveillance, our country’s most vulnerable voices are unwilling to express their beliefs online.”
Now research suggests that widespread awareness of such mass surveillance could undermine democracy by making citizens fearful of voicing dissenting opinions in public.
A paper published last week in Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, the flagship peer-reviewed journal of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC), found that “the government’s online surveillance programs may threaten the disclosure of minority views and contribute to the reinforcement of majority opinion.”
The NSA’s “ability to surreptitiously monitor the online activities of US citizens may make online opinion climates especially chilly” and “can contribute to the silencing of minority views that provide the bedrock of democratic discourse,” the researcher found.
The paper is based on responses to an online questionnaire from a random sample of 255 people, selected to mimic basic demographic distributions across the US population.
Participants were asked to answer questions relating to media use, political attitudes, and personality traits. Different subsets of the sample were exposed to different messaging on US government surveillance to test their responses to the same fictional Facebook post about the US decision to continue airstrikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
They were then asked about their willingness to express their opinions about this publicly—including how they would respond on Facebook to the post; how strongly they personally supported or opposed continued airstrikes; their perceptions of the views of other Americans; and whether they supported or opposed online surveillance. Read the rest of this entry »
“Musk isn’t a newcomer to the idea of a carbon tax. He’s been calling for one for years. But the evolution of his businesses and the advent of Tesla Energy, his power-storage undertaking, appear to have sharpened his pitch.”
“We have to fix the unpriced externality,” he told the audience, shifting into the wonky quasi-academic mode that he actually appears to enjoy indulging in, when he isn’t running two companies and serving as the Chairman of a third, Solar City.
His entire speech hinged on this simple observation: that the addition of carbon to the atmosphere is effectively a worldwide subsidy that’s contributing to global warming and preventing humanity from freeing itself from the fossil fuel era.
Musk called this a “hidden carbon subsidy of $5.3 trillion per year,” citing the IMF. In response to questions after his speech, he said that a good outcome of the current UN Climate Summit (COP21) taking place in France would be that governments “put their foot down” and use a revenue neutral, gradually applied carbon tax to accelerate the shift from an economy driven by fossil fuels to one driven by sustainable energy.
Musk is convinced that the current fossil fuel era will end — it’s just a question of when. In his analysis, the transition will occur simply because we’ll run out of carbon-based stuff that we can dig out of the ground and burn. But the existing carbon subsidy, in his estimation, is slowing down progress. Read the rest of this entry »
When the Administration disclosed the OPM hack in early June, they said Chinese hackers had stolen the personal information of up to four million current and former federal employees. The suspicion was that this was another case of hackers (presumably sanctioned by China’s government) stealing data to use in identity theft and financial fraud. Which is bad enough.
Yet in recent days Obama officials have quietly acknowledged to Congress that the hack was far bigger, and far more devastating. It appears OPM was subject to two breaches of its system in mid-to-late 2014, and the hackers appear to have made off with millions of security-clearance background check files.
These include reports on Americans who work for, did work for, or attempted to work for the Administration, the military and intelligence agencies. They even include Congressional staffers who left government—since their files are also sent to OPM.
This means the Chinese now possess sensitive information on everyone from current cabinet officials to U.S. spies. Background checks are specifically done to report personal histories that might put federal employees at risk for blackmail. The Chinese now hold a blackmail instruction manual for millions of targets.
These background checks are also a treasure trove of names, containing sensitive information on an applicant’s spouse, children, extended family, friends, neighbors, employers, landlords. Each of those people is also now a target, and in ways they may not contemplate. In many instances the files contain reports on applicants compiled by federal investigators, and thus may contain information that the applicant isn’t aware of.
Of particular concern are federal contractors and subcontractors, who rarely get the same security training as federal employees, and in some scenarios don’t even know for what agency they are working. These employees are particularly ripe targets for highly sophisticated phishing emails that attempt to elicit sensitive corporate or government information. Read the rest of this entry »
“I say robot, you say no-bot!”
Jon Swartz reports: The chant reverberated through the air near the entrance to the SXSW tech and entertainment festival here.
About two dozen protesters, led by a computer engineer, echoed that sentiment in their movement against artificial intelligence.
“Machines have already taken over. If you drive a car, much of what it does is technology-driven.”
— Ben Medlock, co-founder of mobile-communications company SwiftKey
“This is is about morality in computing,” said Adam Mason, 23, who organized the protest.
Signs at the scene reflected the mood. “Stop the Robots.” “Humans are the future.”
The mini-rally drew a crowd of gawkers, drawn by the sight of a rare protest here.
The dangers of more developed artificial intelligence, which is still in its early stages, has created some debate in the scientific community. Tesla founder Elon Musk donated $10 million to the Future of Life Institute because of his fears.
Stephen Hawking and others have added to the proverbial wave of AI paranoia with dire predictions of its risk to humanity.
“I am amazed at the movement. I has changed life in ways as dramatic as the Industrial Revolution.”
— Stephen Wolfram, a British computer scientist, entrepreneur and former physicist known for his contributions to theoretical physics
The topic is an undercurrent in Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine, a documentary about the fabled Apple co-founder. The paradoxical dynamic between people and tech products is a “double-edged sword,” said its Academy Award-winning director, Alex Gibney. “There are so many benefits — and yet we can descend into our smartphone.”
As non-plussed witnesses wandered by, another chant went up. “A-I, say goodbye.”
Several of the students were from the University of Texas, which is known for a strong engineering program. But they are deeply concerned about the implications of a society where technology runs too deep. Read the rest of this entry »
Are We Smart Enough to Control Artificial Intelligence?
A true AI might ruin the world—but that assumes it’s possible at all
Paul Ford writes: Years ago I had coffee with a friend who ran a startup. He had just turned 40. His father was ill, his back was sore, and he found himself overwhelmed by life. “Don’t laugh at me,” he said, “but I was counting on the singularity.”
“The question ‘Can a machine think?’ has shadowed computer science from its beginnings.”
My friend worked in technology; he’d seen the changes that faster microprocessors and networks had wrought. It wasn’t that much of a step for him to believe that before he was beset by middle age, the intelligence of machines would exceed that of humans—a moment that futurists call the singularity. A benevolent superintelligence might analyze the human genetic code at great speed and unlock the secret to eternal youth. At the very least, it might know how to fix your back.
But what if it wasn’t so benevolent? Nick Bostrom, a philosopher who directs the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford, describes the following scenario in his book Superintelligence, which has prompted a great deal of debate about the future of artificial intelligence. Imagine a machine that we might call a “paper-clip maximizer”—that is, a machine programmed to make as many paper clips as possible. Now imagine that this machine somehow became incredibly intelligent. Given its goals, it might then decide to create new, more efficient paper-clip-manufacturing machines—until, King Midas style, it had converted essentially everything to paper clips.
No worries, you might say: you could just program it to make exactly a million paper clips and halt. But what if it makes the paper clips and then decides to check its work? Has it counted correctly? It needs to become smarter to be sure. The superintelligent machine manufactures some as-yet-uninvented raw-computing material (call it “computronium”) and uses that to check each doubt. But each new doubt yields further digital doubts, and so on, until the entire earth is converted to computronium. Except for the million paper clips.
Bostrom does not believe that the paper-clip maximizer will come to be, exactly; it’s a thought experiment, one designed to show how even careful system design can fail to restrain extreme machine intelligence. But he does believe that superintelligence could emerge, and while it could be great, he thinks it could also decide it doesn’t need humans around. Or do any number of other things that destroy the world. The title of chapter 8 is: “Is the default outcome doom?”
“Alan Turing proposed in 1950 that a machine could be taught like a child; John McCarthy, inventor of the programming language LISP, coined the term ‘artificial intelligence’ in 1955.”
If this sounds absurd to you, you’re not alone. Critics such as the robotics pioneer Rodney Brooks say that people who fear a runaway AI misunderstand what computers are doing when we say they’re thinking or getting smart. From this perspective, the putative superintelligence Bostrom describes is far in the future and perhaps impossible.
Yet a lot of smart, thoughtful people agree with Bostrom and are worried now. Why?
The question “Can a machine think?” has shadowed computer science from its beginnings. Alan Turing proposed in 1950 that a machine could be taught like a child; John McCarthy, inventor of the programming language LISP, coined the term “artificial intelligence” in 1955. As AI researchers in the 1960s and 1970s began to use computers to recognize images, translate between languages, and understand instructions in normal language and not just code, the idea that computers would eventually develop the ability to speak and think—and thus to do evil—bubbled into mainstream culture. Even beyond the oft-referenced HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey, the 1970 movie Colossus: The Forbin Project featured a large blinking mainframe computer that brings the world to the brink of nuclear destruction; a similar theme was explored 13 years later in War Games. The androids of 1973’s Westworld went crazy and started killing.
“Extreme AI predictions are ‘comparable to seeing more efficient internal combustion engines… and jumping to the conclusion that the warp drives are just around the corner,’ Rodney Brooks writes.”
When AI research fell far short of its lofty goals, funding dried up to a trickle, beginning long “AI winters.” Even so, the torch of the intelligent machine was carried forth in the 1980s and ’90s by sci-fi authors like Vernor Vinge, who popularized the concept of the singularity; researchers like the roboticist Hans Moravec, an expert in computer vision; and the engineer/entrepreneur Ray Kurzweil, author of the 1999 book The Age of Spiritual Machines. Whereas Turing had posited a humanlike intelligence, Vinge, Moravec, and Kurzweil were thinking bigger: when a computer became capable of independently devising ways to achieve goals, it would very likely be capable of introspection—and thus able to modify its software and make itself more intelligent. In short order, such a computer would be able to design its own hardware.
As Kurzweil described it, this would begin a beautiful new era. Read the rest of this entry »
David W. Buchanan is a researcher at IBM, where he is a member of the team that made the Watson “Jeopardy!” system.
David W. Buchanan writes: We have seen astonishing progress in artificial intelligence, and technology companies are pouring money into AI research. In 2011, the IBM system Watson competed on “Jeopardy!,” beating the best human players. Siri and Cortana have taken charge of our smartphones. As I write this, a vacuum called Roomba is cleaning my house on its own, using what the box calls “robot intelligence.” It is easy to feel like the world is on the verge of being taken over by computers, and the news media have indulged such fears with frequent coverage of the supposed dangers of AI.
But as a researcher who works on modern, industrial AI, let me offer a personal perspective to explain why I’m not afraid.
Science fiction is partly responsible for these fears. A common trope works as follows: Step 1: Humans create AI to perform some unpleasant or difficult task. Step 2: The AI becomes conscious. Step 3: The AI decides to kill us all. As science fiction, such stories can be great fun. As science fact, the narrative is suspect, especially around Step 2, which assumes that by synthesizing intelligence, we will somehow automatically, or accidentally, create consciousness. I call this the consciousness fallacy. It seems plausible at first, but the evidence doesn’t support it. And if it is false, it means we should look at AI very differently.
Intelligence is the ability to analyze the world and reason about it in a way that enables more effective action. Our scientific understanding of intelligence is relatively advanced. There is still an enormous amount of work to do before we can create comprehensive, human-caliber intelligence. But our understanding is viable in the sense that there are real businesses that make money by creating AI.
Consciousness is a much different story, perhaps because there is less money in it. Consciousness is also a harder problem: While most of us would agree that we know consciousness when we see it, scientists can’t really agree on a rigorous definition, let alone a research program that would uncover its basic mechanisms. Read the rest of this entry »
Gun Range Poison Scare Story Conveniently Appears 2 Weeks Before Election Featuring Billionaire-Funded Gun Control Initiative I-594Posted: October 20, 2014
“Drafted under the guise of preventing crime and funded almost solely by elitist billionaires with a proud background of stifling the Second Amendment, I-594 is an 18-page document that does nothing but impose heavy legal burdens on law-abiding gun owners and serious penalties for violations. These anti-gun billionaires believe that they can buy your rights out from under you, and I-594 is their attempt at doing so. I-594 will do nothing to make the people of Washington any safer, but will instead create bureaucratic hurdles that could turn law-abiding gun owners into criminals simply for exercising their constitutional rights….” (read more)
THE WASHINGTON COUNCIL OF POLICE & SHERIFFS OPPOSES INITIATIVE 594
The Washington Council of Police & Sheriffs, the state’s oldest and largest law enforcement organization opposes Initiative 594. WACOPS represents more than 4500 active duty police and sheriffs deputies. Click here to read WACOPS position paper on Initiative 594 (read more)
The National Rifle Association (NRA) has released a one-minute digital video as part of it’s online campaign to defeat Washington State Ballot Initiative 594. The video, titled I-594 Will Not Make Washington Safer, features Seattle resident Anette Wachter, “The 30 Cal Gal” blogger and U.S. Long Range Rifle Team member.
In the video, Wachter explains, “I-594 wastes scarce law enforcement resources on something that will not make Washington safer. And it will turn many law-abiding citizens into criminals for simply exercising their constitutional rights.”
HOW MICHAEL BLOOMBERG IS TWISTING THE GUN CONTROL DEBATE IN THE EVERGREEN STATE WASHING-CON
BY DAVE KOPEL
One way scam artists make money is by peddling mislabeled goods. The label on the can says “Wild Alaskan Salmon,” but what’s really inside is codfish from a filthy breeding pen in China, plus some food coloring.
Selling mislabeled goods is illegal, but there’s nothing illegal about mislabeled laws. Michael Bloomberg knows that difference, and he is exploiting it.
[Also see I-594 UNENFORCEABLE by Scott Brennan]
Right now in the state of Washington, Bloomberg is pushing a November ballot measure that is promoted as being about background checks for private sales. But it is really a law to criminalize most gun owners, including those who never sell guns. If passed, the deceptive Bloomberg ban for Washington state is then going to become the national model, to gradually be imposed on gun owners nationwide.
Bloomberg plans to run a similar ballot measure in Oregon in 2015 and in a dozen or more states in 2016. One of them is Nevada, where the 2016 campaign is already in progress. Bloomberg’s Nevada operation calls itself “Nevadans for Background Checks” and is operated by Melissa Warren, the managing partner at the Faiss Foley Warren Public Relations & Government Affairs lobbying firm.
Bloomberg and his minions claim they are just promoting background checks on private sales. But as usual, they are lying.
One way to tell that Bloomberg is selling a mislabeled law is to read the actual proposal. In this case, it is 18 pages long. It would only take a couple of pages to require background checks on private sales of firearms, if that were all the law did.
Instead, the law is a comprehensive scheme to criminalize the normal use of firearms, thus turning most gun owners into criminals, from whom firearms can be confiscated. Read the rest of this entry »
Ann Coulter writes: Liberals are winning wild praise for their candor in admitting problems with Obamacare. It shows you the level of honesty people have come to expect of our liberal friends. Now, liberals are applauded for not lying through their teeth about something.
“It’s not that Obama doesn’t believe in American exceptionalism; it’s that he wants to end it.”
What are they supposed to say? This Obamacare website is fantastic! And really, haven’t you already read all the magazines in your current doctor’s office anyway?
The New York Times has described Obama’s repeated claim that you could keep your insurance plan and keep your doctor under Obamacare as a mere slip of the tongue: “Mr. Obama clearly misspoke when he said that.”
“…Obamacare punishes you for having a healthy lifestyle. The Obamacare tax is a massively regressive poll tax on the middle-aged and the middle class.”
Misspoke? How exactly does one misspeak, word for word, dozens of times, over and over again?
That wasn’t misspeaking — it was a deliberate, necessary lie. Even Democrats couldn’t have voted for Obamacare if Americans had known the truth. It was absolutely vital for Obama to lie about people being able to keep their insurance and their doctors.
Of course, it was difficult for voters to know the truth because every time Republicans would try to tell them, the White House and the media would rush in and call the critics liars.
Guy Sorman writes: Bill Gates is putting out a call to inventors,” the CNN story began last March, “but he’s not looking for software or the latest high-tech gadget. This time he’s in search of a better condom.” Incongruous as the story seemed, the former Microsoft titan had joined the struggle against sexually transmitted diseases. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was offering a $100,000 start-up grant to anyone who could design a condom that didn’t interfere with sexual pleasure. Rachel Zimmerman, host of public radio’s CommonHealth, called the Gates Foundation’s initiative “truly inspired.” But was it? After all, the latex industry has pursued the same goal for decades and devoted many millions of dollars to the effort. What’s the point of a philanthropist trying to do what the market is already doing?
Call this philanthropy for show, a kind of celebrity giving designed for a mediatized age, based on grand gestures, big dollars, and heartwarming proclamations—but too little concern with actual results, which often prove paltry, redundant (as with the condom initiative), or even destructive. The American media often revel in controversy, so one might expect that the gap between expansive promises and disappointing outcomes would prompt intense journalistic interest. But for the most part, would-be statesmen-humanitarians—such as Bill Clinton, Gates, and Al Gore, along with entertainment- world benefactors like Oprah Winfrey and academic superstars like Columbia development economist Jeffrey Sachs, have gotten a free pass for their good philanthropic intentions. They and their cohorts deserve closer scrutiny.
Oprah Winfrey is an icon of twenty-first-century American popular culture, a prominent supporter of Barack Obama, and the richest black woman in the world, with an estimated wealth of $2.8 billion, according to Forbes. She can serve as an early exemplar of the philanthropist for show: the celebrity savior.
NEW YORK/SEATTLE (Reuters) – Nadia Damouni and Bill Rigby report: Three of the top 20 investors in Microsoft Corp are lobbying the board to press for Bill Gates to step down as chairman of the software company he co-founded 38 years ago, according to people familiar with matter.
While Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer has been under pressure for years to improve the company’s performance and share price, this appears to be the first time that major shareholders are taking aim at Gates, who remains one of the most respected and influential figures in technology.
A representative for Microsoft declined to comment on Tuesday.
There is no indication that Microsoft’s board would heed the wishes of the three investors, who collectively hold more than 5 percent of the company’s stock, according to the sources. They requested the identity of the investors be kept anonymous because the discussions were private. Read the rest of this entry »
Today Microsoft announced that it has reached a “cooperation agreement” with ValueAct Capital, an investment company that had been a thorn in its side. It was said that ValueAct wanted a seat on Microsoft’s board.
Instead, Microsoft and ValueAct have come to a different agreement, in which the president of ValueAct – Mason Morfit – and Microsoft directors will meet to talk over issues relating to the company. Morfit will also be given a chance at joining the board, after the company’s annual shareholder meeting.
Steve Ballmer is stepping down as the CEO of Microsoft, and Wall Street is rather pleased.
On Friday, Ballmer announced that, after 33 years with the company that defined software in the 1980s and ’90s, he will retire sometime within the next 12 months. As of noon Eastern, Microsoft’s stock price had climbed nearly 6 percent. The money men have spoken, and for once, they’re making sense.
In some ways, it’s sad to see Big Steve go. He had a wonderful way of filling a room — with his bellowing voice, his endless stream of hyperbole, his sometimes awkward physicality, and, yes, with just the size of his frame. And for those of us who lived through the PC revolution, Ballmer — employee Number 30 at Microsoft — is the company’s one remaining link to the days when it so swiftly took hold of the tech universe.
But during Ballmer’s decade at Microsoft’s helm — he took the reins from founder Bill Gates in 2000 — the company dug itself a hole that it will be lucky to crawl from in the decade to come.
As Carol Burnett sang: “I’m so glad we had this time together, just to have a laugh or sing a song. Seems we just got started and before you know it , comes the time we have to say, ‘So long.'”