ARTIFICIAL VS. HUMAN INTELLIGENCE

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

It is scary partly because it more unmanageable than the Internet and social media. In a world already beset by ransomware, Russian manipulation and privacy invasions, it is harder to control than Facebook, which does not inspire a lot of confidence. At the same time, AI is promising in that it may, for example, help solve societal problems and/or lead to improved medical care. And undoubtedly some other benefits yet unimagined.

A first order question is figuring out the real differences 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 obvious to me that AI can clear that hurdle.

AI’s self-learning algorithms and limitless memory notwithstanding, it is still basically dependent 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. If, however, two things have never been associated (which obviously happens), a ‘match’ is not there to be found. Hence, exceptional humans may always [hopefully] 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. 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 could 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. And it is this aspect of AI – the dark, all-knowing technological Big Brother – that worries experts in the field, and others.

A recent Secretary of Defense, Ash Carter, now again Professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, regards this as one of the least visible but biggest problems we face today, and he worries that if we do not address it aggressively –and SOON—it might successfully undermine a lot of our own cyber strength.

In this era of digital revolutions, we are beset on all sides by subtle new issues and questions.

We need to take this one HEAD ON and get ahead of the curve.

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HOW—WHY—WHEN—EVER????

The deeper and longer we have been immersed in the Trump sinkhole, the more vexing and confusing it has become for many of us.

My most recent exposure to that reality came with the preliminary results of my recent mini-poll asking what other people were thinking as the Mueller probe is winding to a conclusion.

My instinctive assumption was that many people were likely to see that moment as the beginning of the end for Trump, or the end of the beginning. But almost everyone, I thought, would see Mueller’s report as a major turning point, whether for good or bad.

But the array and dispersion of answers from most people proved both my assumptions wrong. Most respondents to my admittedly unscientific survey don’t appear to believe that the conclusion of the Mueller investigation will make much difference at all.

Sadly, it seems to me that can be due to only one of two things.

Either people (who virtually all indicated their disdain for Trump) credit him with more resilience, brilliance and slipperiness than appears on the surface.

Or, they are so tired of being disappointed as each new horror failed to disappoint the MAGA base – and Congressional Republicans – from their moral slumber that they have either truly lost all hope or are trying to protect themselves emotionally from the next assault.

Whichever is correct, the current state of mind indicated by the poll sadly helps and contributes to Trump’s staying power.

Big polls still indicate that about 40 percent of the American people support Trump, and about 90 percent of Republicans. That means roughly two out of every five Americans or almost every other person you see in a crowd backs a President most of the other 60 percent believes to be some combination of evil, inept and insane. How can so many Americans see virtually the same thing so very differently?

What are those folks thinking?

Are they more racist than most Americans? Stupider? Do they resent that the country does not appear to understand or appreciate them? Can they possibly believe that isolationism will improve their overall lot in life?

Sadly, neither pollsters nor analysts have found any good rationale for those and similar questions. Many believe that the blind loyalty of the MAGA crowd augurs poorly for democracy.

But my own poll takers may perhaps have similar problems to confront: It’s not at all clear, for example, how limiting ones hopes and expectations advances changes people clearly want to see.

There are two possible answers: one is they may fear retribution, if things stay or get worse. The other is they are tired of being wrong for so long that they are setting their expectations so low as to certainly be right!

There is a final possibility that one shudders to consider: it may be that the 60 percent  – that is, the rest of the U.S. population—simply has not caught up with Trump’s wholly different view of the world, and we are just plain wrong about the future. Trump, in his craziness, may see things that many of us either cannot, have not, or refuse to see.

I will not deal with that possibility in this blog, because I believe so clearly and strongly that it cannot be true. Capitulating could lead to a national phobia.

One way of putting the question (free from Trump himself) would be to assume that if Trump were like Romney, in character, temperament and demeanor, it might be reasonable to pause and think.  But, with Trump’s long history of being wrong so often, except very lucky in his selection of parents, coupled with his endless lack of candor and honor, it requires an extreme leap of faith that simply cannot exist.

So where in heaven or hell are we?

The Trump phenomenon is truly mysterious, and it has a curious hold over an amazing share of our diverse population.

Most of the alleged ‘facts’ underpinning his beliefs and policies have proven to be wrong. Those that undermine his beliefs and policies are, of course, fake.

A sane person does not ‘seek’ the Nobel Peace prize. They seek peace for its own sake, and for the sake of the world, not as a trophy to display in their clubhouse.

Breaking the bonds of the US with other democratic societies while kowtowing to Putin does not make any sense in the real world.

Still the laws of gravity and human behavior are well enough established that the non-Trump believers among us should stiffen our lips, raise our chins and be prepared for a long slugfest before we can move on to the other new and unexpected challenges from a highly uncertain future!

THE EVOLUTION OF HOMO SAPIENS?

We learn more every year about how “we” came about and evolved.

For example, I very recently learned that we have NO need for 5 toes per foot. The little ‘piggy who went to market’ toe is entirely superfluous. The big toe, by contrast, is essential to walking, and the other three are helpful.

How then do we have the extra toes? The answer is that they are part of our original equipment. For example, look at the hands and feet of chimpanzees. They are pretty much the same because the chimps do pretty much the same things with both their hands and feet. Fossil evidence indicates that Neanderthals, our closest evolutionary forebearers, had five toes on each foot. Five toes, in fact, was common for prehistoric animals of all sorts. (For those interested in such things, The Evolutionary History of the Human Foot may sate your curiosity.)

On a larger, longer scale of things, that tells me that we have not changed physically as much as we have mentally.

Scientists are still quite baffled about when and how our sapiens ancestors broke off and developed from the species that preceded them.

We still have prehensile tails. Males still have breasts and nipples, for no apparent purpose (further evidenced by Adam Levine’s shirtless performance at last month’s Super Bowl). At the same time, we never developed a host of features that would be useful – such as an eye in the back of our head, which could protect us in crowded, dangerous forests as well New York City traffic.

It is not clear how we communicated back then. And, it still is not clear to some of us how we communicate now, with social media confusing a great many of us much of the time.

The basic unit of most animal and human lives is ‘the family’— mother, children and sometimes a father, but that is NOT a universally observable truism.

How those basic units of animals and, more recently, humans evolved into larger units to ensure their survival and enhance progenation has long been studied by sociologists and anthropologists. But, they may have gotten lost in a forest of confusion by looking for sensible developments, when they might have found more important fundamental truths had they not assumed that more complexity was the inevitable path.

The fact is that, even with all the advances in all forms of communications, work, travel, etc. we are all still pretty basic creatures.

We need and like to sleep. We need and like to eat. We need and like to make babies. We need and at least try to have friends—not too many, not too few. We need money to do most things. We love freedom in all varieties – movement, thought and voice.

And perhaps most of all, we do not want ‘others’ (government) telling us what to do or not to do.

None of that has really changed much since our Neanderthal cousins exited the evolutionary stage, except that over time more people have been able to realize the basic needs of humanity.  

So why then do we assume that we have evolved into a form of sapiens that is better adapted to the modern world?

A PRIVATE POLL FROM ABOUT 1,000 ‘FRIENDS?’

Rampaging curiosity is stirring with the news that Mueller is just about finished, that Cohen WILL testify next week and that Roger Stone has been cornered — leads one to ask what can we all expect to see before April Fool’s Day?

I have my own guesses, but I want to hear first from y’all.

None of the details will ever be revealed, but your overall views could be quite instructive and interesting and you will, of course, get the full feedback.

  1. Trump’s base will shrink by at least 1/3 effectively likely ending his reelection ambitions.
  2. The House will get his tax returns and financials which may insure that he will get some jail time like his buddies.
  3. The Republican Senate leadership will fairly quickly abandon Trump for fear that he will take them down too.
  4. The House will likely move toward an Impeachment indictment. Despite all, the 2/3 vote in the Senate to vote to convict impeachment may be beyond reach.
  5. Despite that, a criminal indictment of Trump is likely, though it is unlikely that he would be tried until his Presidency ends.
  6. A sane person in his position would use what little remaining leverage he might have to negotiate with the Congress a peaceful ending NOT in jail.

I know a lot of you do not agree with me about Trump and I hope that we all learn more from what the group as a whole thinks???

**For example, your response could be “Agree (or Disagree) to X, Y, & Z” OR if you prefer to remain invisible, respond with “3 Agrees/2 Disagrees” (or, obviously, any other combination that suits your views).

TRUMP’S BIGGEST, PERHAPS FATAL MISTAKE

I never thought that Trump could make me feel better and younger. But he finally has by transporting me back to the 1950’s and my days at Harvard Law School when I studied Constitutional law. Those were the good old days — when it was all just theoretical!

I will spare you a blog in lawyer’s language, so here is what I learned—in plain English.

The overwhelming concern of our Constitution’s authors was to not recreate the monarchy they were then violently [militarily] opposing.  Whatever else America might be, or become, the Founders were united in their determination that there would never be anything like a KING ruling over its people.

That was why they created 3 – yes, THREE— separate branches of government: legislative; judicial and executive. By carefully allocating power amongst them — the famous “checks and balances” of our constitutional system – the Founders aimed to keep each of the three branches free from undue influence or encroachment by the others – particularly the executive branch President. One needn’t have attended Harvard to understand this; every high school civics class is drilled on this relationship. Congress makes the laws, the Executive executes and carries out the laws, and the Judiciary says what the law is, or was.


The Founders also empowered the Congress [importantly with the power of the purse], because they were believed to be the closest to the people whose money it was to be spent. Only Congress can provide and allocate funds (through its normal appropriations process or special legislation), and the President (or members of the Executive branch reporting to the President) can NOT legally spend a penny unless and until it is appropriated by Congress. The Constitution gives the executive branch a single mechanism to reject Congress’s decisions in this regard (the veto), but not the power to ignore or override them. In the absence of an appropriation, the executive may not act.

History is, of course, full of horror stories of how democracies in the past century have slipped into autocracies under leaders who illegally usurped existing legislative powers until ‘the people’ were essentially subjected to dictatorial whims. It is hard to believe that even the most distressed Americans today could possibly want THAT!

Now we have Trump –like it or lump it—insisting that he will spend billions more on his beloved wall across the southern border than the amount Congress has finally, after serious and due deliberation, authorized as appropriate and necessary. To do so, he claims that by simply declaring ‘an emergency,’ he can not only accept the monies Congress allocated for this purpose (some 1.3 billion dollars) but also take other money allocated by Congress for other purposes and put it toward wall construction.

Such an approach, using a spurious determination of an ‘emergency’ at the southern border at the same time as he was accepting Congress’s number by signing the bill they sent him, is in blatant contempt of his Constitutional rights. The cooked-up, and self-admittedly fake emergency is, on its face, a gross violation of the Constitution.

The reason that this may be his biggest and fatal mistake is that it is highly likely that he will unite the Court System with Congress in stopping this imperial fiat!

Typically, the Supreme Court prefers to avoid adjudicating disputes between the other branches of government, properly believing that a political process is the best and proper forum for resolving such issues. This case is likely to be seen as truly exceptional for the simple reason that such a blatant power grab poses a serious danger to the basic Constitutional separation of powers – and, very  importantly, to the Court’s own independent authority.  If the Court were to stay on the sidelines in this instance, who’s to say that next ‘emergency’ won’t be invoked to overcome a Court order or decision that the President finds ‘inconvenient?’ There are several such really serious cases out there to worry about: health care; the special counsel; and Roe v Wade, for example.  

Now that he has just invoked this loaded word –emergency–there will surely be emergency litigation that will move like lightening through the court system and reach the Supreme Court in short order. And, (I am obviously sticking neck out here) this Supreme Court is VERY LIKELY to unanimously say NO to Trump. He personally helped that along by saying – in publicly announcing his own emergency! — “I don’t have to do this now, but I want to do it now.”

What are even the most ardent Trumpistas going to think and say when ‘his court’ and both houses of Congress reject this blatant power grab?

 It could all well come together at the same time Mueller’s report is finally being published, adding fuel to an already blazing bonfire.

Perhaps that will finally be the moment to use the 25th Amendment (the provision for dealing with illness and  incompetence not the politics of impeachment) before Trump can do even more devastating and lasting damage to our precious country.

If anyone ever had any doubt about Trump’s mental health and competence, this totally self-inflicted wound makes it clear as crystal now to the world at large.

TIPS FOR STAYING YOUNG!

My recent piece on dealing with aging produced a tidal wave of interest and amusement. The main return theme was the question ‘how to stay young?’

That is a lot tougher than how to age! Time is against us all. Let’s give it a try anyway.

First, (and this can be done) find, make and keep younger friends. I have seen this done –and deliberately—many times. It may be the most important tip of all.

Second, think well ahead. If you are making plans for 10 years out, you likely want to see them happen. That contributes to the will to survive.

Third, think young. I am not sure what that is, exactly, but it likely includes exercise, sex and learning. As people lose interest in those subjects, they gradually stop thinking young. The fact that you may do less does not mean you have lost interest.

Fourth, imagine things that might happen in the future and look forward to seeing them unfold. For instance, what and who might follow Trump is a subject that could keep you up at night, or give you the best night’s sleep you’ve had in years.

Fifth, keep an eye on cultural shifts, such as in fashion, art and music. Taking an interest in what is going on around you all the time contributes to being young.

Sixth, do not plan your investments on a statistical estimate of your life expectancy. Plan like you will live forever. Your heirs will appreciate it even if you do not!

Seventh, look for humor in everyone and everything. It is there and when you sense it, laugh out loud. Laughing is the best exercise for youth.

Eighth, do not go to class reunions. You are bound to find yourself surrounded by a bunch people you used to think were your age but who now look ancient and who are wondering how you got in the wrong room!

Ninth, dress young. Do not stay stuck in the style that was fashionable in your younger years. Looking young is being young.

Tenth, read the obits regularly and feel good that you out-lived that SOB you have hated forever but thought better not engage in a fight.

These tips, plus my curiosity, have served me well for 87 years. Your performance surely will vary.

TIPS FOR GROWING OLD

No advice; just tips for navigating the golden years.

1-DO NOT FALL! Great advice but how? Hold on to everything you can grab, but never “grab ‘em by …”, well, you know.

2-DO NOT FORGET YOUR IPHONE: You never know when God may try to reach you. Best to talk to her when she calls!

3-DO NOT FORGET YOUR NAME: The person at the front desk probably will not know it either.

4-DO NOT WORRY ABOUT LOSING YOUR HEARING: Most of what you were hearing was not worth it—learn to nod knowingly and dream on.

5-DO NOT LET SOCIAL MEDIA INTRUDE ON YOUR PRIVACY: Just kidding! You already haven’t had any since 2005.

6-DO FORGET WHAT YOU WERE TRYING TO REMEMBER: It is the quickest way to remember.

7-DO NOT TRY TO REMEMBER WHAT YOU WERE GOING TO DO NEXT: Simply do something else and you will remember it at an inconvenient moment.

8-IF SOMETHING LOOKS UNFAMILIAR: It probably really is.

9-IF EVER YOU FEEL WOBBLY: Sit down and drink a glass of whiskey.

10-IF EVER YOU DREAM OF DEATH: Wake up right away.