Artificial Vs. Human Intelligence

The rapid advent of AI is scary to many people, promising to others, and a little of both to most.

It is scary partly because it is more unmanageable than the internet and social media, which in a world of ransomware, Russian manipulation and privacy invasions do not inspire a lot of confidence. It is promising in that it may, for example, help inarticulate Uber drivers better and more easily find their riders. And probably some other benefits as yet unimagined.

A first order question is what the real difference is between artificial and human versions of intelligence. One age-old definition of exceptionally good human intelligence is the ability to associate dissociated things/ideas. That, of course, involves pure intuitiveness. It is not yet clear to me whether AI can clear that hurdle.

AI’s self-learning algorithms and limitless memory notwithstanding, it is still basically built on the speed and capacity of computers to almost instantly scan and consider millions of possibilities looking for all relevant matches and possibilities relating to the issue/question at hand. However, if two things have never been associated, [which obviously can happen] presumably a ‘match’ is not there to be found. Hence, exceptional humans may always have an edge over machines. The fate of the rest of us is yet to be determined, presumably by our eventual robot overlords.

In the meantime, there is much to beware. Machines, for example, never forget a face once seen. Therefore, people may have to be more careful in where they go and show their face, because the evidence that they were there at a certain time will be available more or less forever. That might be an advantage in establishing an alibi. But, it also might put them at the scene of a crime. Those are not necessarily off-setting possibilities. Opportunities for abuse by law enforcement or despots abound. Freedom of assembly is a cornerstone of our democracy – one that cannot exist without freedom of movement.

AI therefore might just be on the verge of impinging [even unintentionally] on our basic freedoms?

A recent Secretary of Defense regards this as one of the least visible but biggest problems we face today.


I Know Not Where

A few days ago, I forecast that Trump would draw his target around wherever his arrow from Singapore landed and call it the best deal in history ever made by an American President.

Well, I am sorry to say, I was WRONG!

It is, of course, impossible to draw a target around nothing –particularly an arrow that has NOT landed.

Who could have imagined that nothing of any significance would emerge from such a highly touted meeting of such importance?  Of course, that reality hasn’t even slowed down our clueless leader, who proclaimed “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.”

In any event, I apologize for not having anticipated such an empty let down.

At least we are not at war with North Korea.

The result also makes the Iran deal Obama made, and on which Trump reneged, look like an even better deal than ever.

Where we –and Trump—are next headed in this saga remains yet to be imagined.

Best Free Meal In New York City

There are not many free things worthwhile in life today. I did discover yesterday one free thing worth reporting on.

The Harvard Club of New York in recent years has been holding an annual lunch celebrating/honoring all members of 50 plus years.

They like having a lot of members—currently more than 12,000—and the golden oldies are great business because they pay their dues but rarely use [cost] the club as they may have in their younger years.

I went this year and had an interesting experience.

The lady guarding the door tried to turn me away saying: “This is just for the older members.” I finally convinced her that my name was on the list.  She then relented, saying “If you insist.”

Then I found a classmate and enjoyed the gathering, feeling pretty cool that I was perhaps the youngest looking ‘oldie’ in the room.

But what was truly noticeable was the meal. The salad was exceptional, with a lovely dressing and elegant fruits; the main plate was perfectly cooked halibut, king of fish, steaks with ideal vegetables and popovers to add insult to the calories.

That was when I was struck by the wise generosity of the Club to dangle such an attractive reward for the long term loyalty of Club members.

It also provided me with an excellent excuse to tell you good things about the Club and its food AND about my apparent youthfulness!

Perhaps Trump Should Pardon Himself Now!

If Donald Trump really believes that he has absolute power to pardon himself, it would make excellent sense for him to do it now, and thus put an immediate end to ‘this whole pointless witch hunt search for collusion.’

He could say both that he believes that he never knowingly violated any law or obstructed justice in any way BUT, if he possibly did so, even inadvertently, he pardons himself and therefore the whole “Russia thing” would become immediately moot.

He would also immediately be freed from all the harassment dogging and distracting him and be able to get back to his full time job of President which he yearns to do.

What else would happen is, of course, quite unclear.

For certain, lawyers from the left and right would head immediately to court to question and/or support the constitutionality of his actions.

Based on earlier indications, it also seems likely that there would be movement in both chambers of Congress toward impeachment.

From the perspective of the country as a whole, despite an intense period of chaos and confusion, the Trump episode would either be legitimized or ended much more promptly than seems otherwise possible at the moment.

There is a lot to be said for getting back to a more normal life.

Even his own spokesman and lawyer on this matter said last weekend that at the end of the day it comes down to impeachment or no impeachment.

Let’s all get on with it. The slow grind is bad for everyone ­– here and abroad.

If he really believes that he has the power to pardon himself, he should take such a step to either really continue to fish longer or cut the bait now and be done with uncertainty!

Half A Loaf Is Not Enough!

Until the 2016 election, the turnout of qualified, registered voters in the United States as a whole for quite a long time in recent years ran normally at about 50 +/- %. That is a VERY low percentage by global democracy standards. Then in 2016 it dropped down to 37%.


No doubt a basic reason was a widespread belief that neither candidate was right for the job, for very different reasons. And, thus the overall result was ‘a pox on both of you.’  Of course, that conclusion amounts to kicking the can down the road for another four years, and leaves the whole country – including the 63%  who did not vote – at the mercy of whichever candidate managed to get elected. In this case the winner was elected by about only 1/5 of ALL voters, but also by about 3,000,000 fewer voters altogether.

No matter what you may think about our Constitution and electoral process, that was surely not the way the Founding Fathers ever imagined an election should be concluded. So we are now stuck with another three years of a minority elected President who seems to be doing his best to alienate ever more fellow citizens.

This situation leads to the question of what can we do NOW to help insure a much bigger and more representative turn out in 2020.

That may partly happen because citizen concern has seemingly increased enough to at least get us back to the overall 50% level of voting turnout. In many red or blue States that are one-sided there are plenty of voters [of both parties] who do not vote because they somehow think ‘their’ vote does not matter.

One – hopefully non-controversial — idea could address one basic problem of low turnout.

Voting – and getting there—is not as easy in the US as in many countries because many parts of this country are less densely populated. As a result, it is in fact a pretty big deal to get to the polls on Election Day –transportation, health, conflicting job requirements, long lines and waits for people with disabilities—are all legitimate problems that conflict with people’s desire and ability to vote.

Indeed, an option does exist for absentee ballots but that too has its own discouraging challenges. Paperwork, hassle, too premature to decide, and nearly impossible to change your vote on Election Day. To many such people such voting is not worth the bother particularly in one-sided States.

If there were a way a person who could NOT get out to vote could relatively easily delegate to an immediate family member the right to cast her or his relative’s vote by producing the relative’s Social Security card, driver’s license, health insurance card and/or birth certificate—as well as a statement why they are voting in the relative’s place.

The delegator must say he/she has been promised by the voting relative to cast the vote the way the delegator wants and that no money or any other thing of value was exchanged for the right to cast that relative’s vote.

Another thing that should be included would be a photo of the delegator and the delegatee exchanging the paperwork.

This process could be close to foolproof and would likely increase turn out by something. It is at least worth a try.

Perhaps there are enough flexible and confident jurisdictions to give such a plan a try soon enough to work out the kinks in time for a more general use in 2020!

An IPhone Managed Education

My wife of 67 years and I attended this week my 70th reunion from Phillips Exeter Academy along with just 6 other classmates.

All 7 attendees met for about an hour, had little or nothing in common other than Exeter and also discovered there are still about 100 (out of about 200) of us alive somewhere, close to 90 years old, who had the good sense to stay home. Perhaps forgetfulness interfered with personal memories among some of us.

There is almost NOTHING of the old experience left now, except a lot of wonderfully modernized old buildings, which relate to our educational experiences in the late 1940s.

I have to admit that I did not really attend for the reunion itself.

I happily have 3 (out of 9) grandchildren (2 girls and 1 boy) who are there now and it was a great chance to go see the old school through their young, modern eyes.

It was/is downright amazing.

But, what we saw was so much more interesting and challenging than what I remember, it really made me want to start over.

To begin with, more than half the students now are female (51%) vs NONE when I attended. As you would expect, these girls are great in all obvious respects. And they are extraordinary in one other respect: as a group, the girls routinely outperform the boys. No surprise! Apparently, the ‘distraction factor’ of the other sex is largely a thing of the past. Or maybe distractions may help explain the girls’ superiority?

Another highly visible difference is diversity. WASP/J type kids are now distinctly in a minority giving way to African Americans, Asians, Europeans, Latinos, etc.  Together they appear to be well over half and are more than fully competitive.

I recall in my first year, we were asked to elect a class president in our first week at school. There was one African American kid in our class [school], and he was the only one whose name was known to more than a few of our classmates, and thus he stood out well enough to get virtually all of the votes. Talk about a long way from Tipperary!

Then there is the educational process itself.

I recall we all had largely preset and similar schedules and stuck to them religiously to avoid confusion. Today, everybody has their very own personalized and accepted schedule from 8 AM to about 8 PM. That schedule is run on an Academy App and every kid has a smart phone which tells them daily where and when to be on deck. It also is used to give them assignments, to change time and dates and no end of information on what they are supposed to be doing, and when and where.

They really are busy and they love ALL their teachers and classmates from whom they also learn.

They not only learn a lot about history, information and ideas,  they are also exposed to the latest in science, the arts and the many, so-called, extracurricular activities and sports that soak up whatever time they have in between everything else.

It used to be that ‘the campus’ was the main center of interest at a boarding school.

Today, it is virtually everything else which is held together and coordinated through the school’s computers and communications technologies.

And, not to forget the teachers! They are there in abundance—about one for every ten students, very informal, friendly and very skilled at teaching—not by preaching, but by drawing the kids in and out and getting them to discover for themselves – which is the very essence of great teaching.

We attended classes in French, Spanish, Biology, and Chemistry as well an Art program in printing designs and a Lab experience in titration.

And, we watched a part of the rowing activities that two of our grand-kids participate in.

The big take away from this wonderful experience was that these kids are being brilliantly prepared for the new and rapidly changing world they will soon inherit.


The world needs them – and many more like them.