Artificial Intelligence Revolution

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You say you want a revolution? Ready or not, a revolution is coming. It’s coming for you and me. It’s coming soon. You might want to try to hold onto your job. And your dignity. But good luck with that.

“The real battles that lie ahead will lack the apocalyptic drama of Hollywood blockbusters, but they will disrupt the structure of our economic and political systems all the same. Looming before us in the coming decades is an AI-driven crisis of jobs, inequality and meaning. The new technology will wipe out a huge portion of work as we’ve known it, dramatically widening the wealth gap and posing a challenge to the human dignity of us all.”

AI stands for Artificial Intelligence. If you want to be cool and appear in the know, you can begin dropping the AI acronym into your conversation or writing whenever possible.

The above quote is from a long piece written by Kai-Fu Lee in the Sept. 15-16 weekend edition of The Wall Street Journal. (I’m not in the habit of reading the WSJ, because I own no stocks and no bonds. But I sometimes pick it up if Publix is sold out of the NYT. Maybe I should read the WSJ more often? But I digress.) The article is entitled “The Human Promise Of The AI Revolution.” (See, I didn’t make up the “revolution” part.) Here’s another chilling quote from the WSJ article:

“This unprecedented disruption requires no new scientific breakthrough in AI, just the application of existing technology to new problems. It will hit many white-collar professionals just as hard as it hits blue-collar factory workers.”

Gosh, I’ve been focusing my worry on global warming, climate change, and the rising sea level. (And Donald Trump, of course. But I promise not to digress in that direction.) Now I have to worry about artificial intelligence as well? No problem. I have a nearly unlimited capacity for Worry, with a capital “W.”

Global Warming and Artificial Intelligence

After reading the aforementioned article, I can see similarities between Global Warming and Artificial Intelligence. Both sound like science fiction with hints of apocalypse.

Both promise unprecedented change with astonishing but uncertain consequences. Many people hope and believe that humans will be able to exert some degree of control over both global warming and artificial intelligence. (This is the “It might not be too late” school of optimism.)

Most folks have heard about global warming, but hope its most dangerous consequences are way off in the future. Many folks have not heard about artificial intelligence. Yet. But  if they have, they assume it is way off in the future.

Many people are aware that global warming has probably been happening for some time. Many acknowledge that we are already experiencing the first effects of global warming and climate change, manifesting as annoying shifts in weather patterns and apparent increase in the size and frequency of catastrophic storms.

However, it hasn’t dawned on many folks that artificial intelligence, like global warming, is already happening. Both global warming and artificial intelligence are HERE, NOW.

A Glacier And A Locomotive

I think I can get away with one more quote from the Kai-Fu Lee article in the WSJ. After all, I’m going to give him free publicity for his forthcoming book.

“The AI revolution will be of the magnitude of the Industrial Revolution — but probably larger and definitely faster. Where the steam engine only took over physical labor, AI can perform both intellectual and physical labor. And where the Industrial Revolution took centuries to spread beyond Europe and the U.S., AI applications are already being adopted simultaneously all across the world.”

Larger and faster than the Industrial Revolution!!!

Here’s my interpretation: Global warming is moving — not as slowly as a glacier, perhaps — but slowly, in terms of human years.

Global warming can make big changes in the lifetime of one human.

Artificial Intelligence, meanwhile, is moving more like a speeding locomotive — more like dog years than human years.

Artificial intelligence can make big changes in the lifetime of one dog.

And what about that Kai-Fu Lee book? It is “AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley and the New World Order.” There’s a title to strike fear into the heart. The book is scheduled to be published next week, Sept. 25, by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. So says the WSJ.

And who is this guy Kai-Fu Lee? Never heard of him. He appears to have serious credentials in the brave new world of AI. You could Google him.

— John Hayden

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Children In Danger

In the 1950s, when I was a child in elementary school, we were taught to hide under our desks and shield our eyes in the event of an atomic bomb attack. The nuns in my school didn’t seem alarmed. Simply another thing we practiced at school, like fire drills, multiplication tables, and penmanship. It was called “duck and cover.”

Adults talked about the A-bomb.

We lived in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., the nation’s capital, a likely target of our enemy, the Russians, who lived far away.

My mother mused that we might evacuate to get away from a bomb. My father worked in downtown Washington, and we were in the suburbs, so if we decided to evacuate during the day, we should plan to meet up at some church about an hour’s drive west, near Frederick, MD. My father was more interested in reading the afternoon paper. A day off from school! That was my thought.

This atomic bomb thing, should it ever happen, would be a big explosion in the distance, and a main danger was that the bright light would hurt our eyes. Duck and cover was the thing to do.

No one, adults or children, had ever seen an atomic bomb explosion. We hadn’t heard of such a thing actually happening, certainly not at any school nearby. Or anyplace else in our state. Or anyplace, really. Adults recalled that airplanes had dropped two atomic bombs, but that was far away, long before we children were born.

The 1950s are more than a half-century in the past. The distant and naive past. Today’s schoolchildren and parents live with the fears of 2018. The more things change, the more they remain the same?

No.

In elementary school, today’s dangers are different. 

Children now drill on how to survive an “active shooter.” A shooter inside their school. It’s not a distant, abstract danger. It has really happened in schools. Already happened! 

It’s happened over and over. It’s happened in schools in your own state. Everyone knows about it. No one denies it. The danger is in your neighborhood, possibly next door. Maybe in your very own house!

In my childhood, we saw guns in cowboy movies. For today’s children, guns are everywhere. Sometimes it seems as if nearly everyone is armed, at least here in Florida.

As the new school year begins, the state is belatedly (reluctantly?) spending some money in reaction to public opinion. It is, after all, an election year. Nothing to control guns, mind you. But they’re putting up fences around some schools. Rushing to hire and train more school security personnel. Dress them in more military-like uniforms. Putting on a show to placate fearful parents. In some cases, making schools look like prisons with correctional officers.

Meanwhile, inside the schools principals and teachers conduct active-shooter drills. Children are taught something new: “Run, Hide, Fight.” Sounds like basic training in the army. But it’s not the army. It’s elementary school and high school. It’s worth repeating: “Run, Hide, Fight.”

Wait.

Children are now expected to fight a man shooting a gun in the classroom, the hallway, the cafeteria?

Oh, well. Only as a last resort. First, you should run or hide. Hope and pray (is prayer OK?) that the police arrive. Hope and pray that police arrive, like, RIGHT NOW.

And yes, you might have to fight a gunman with your bare hands, as a last resort. That’s what the schools are teaching. Is it possible that I’ve misunderstood? If that is incorrect, please, somebody correct me.

No, the danger children face at school is not the same.

Yes, the danger at school, and other places too, is WORSE. The danger is not abstract. It’s real. It’s immediate. It’s everywhere.

Are children traumatized by this fear? Or do they ignore it? What about parents? What about teachers? How do teachers cope with fear? Some suggest teachers should carry guns.

Full Stop. Those thoughts — danger in school, children and parents in fear, teachers, guns. More than enough for one day. A good place to stop writing. The only place to go from here is: Can a society live like this, and survive?

— John

Note: This post was prompted by a news story, “Parents block shooter video: Pinellas elementary school kids won’t have to see it as part of active shooting drills,” in The Tampa Bay Times, Aug. 21, 2018, page 1B.

Social Tensions Not Getting Better Soon

Two troubling developments I heard about today:

A Unite The Right white nationalist rally is scheduled in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 12. Not clear how many protestors and counter-protestors might show up, and what they plan to do. Whatever the plans may be, these things have a way of getting out of hand.

The Aug. 12 rally in Washington might fizzle or it might explode. Who knows? But it seems like a possible escalation of a similar white nationalist event in Charlottesville, VA, in summer 2017. That didn’t turn out so well.

I hope counter-protestors will consider NOT coming to Washington on Aug. 12, so as to avoid confrontation. Remember, it takes two to fight, and we really don’t need further violence or division in our society at this point.

In Chicago, 74 shootings reported this past weekend, with 12 dead, as reported today by Brian Williams on MSNBC. It is possibly the worst weekend for shootings ever in that great but troubled city.

Division and violence commonplace. Our culture and society are in trouble. (Just my opinion.) I said I was going to avoid writing about politics, and I’m holding to that. This isn’t about politics. It’s about the health of our American culture and society. The prognosis is uncertain.

— John Hayden

Stand Your Ground And Self-Defense In Florida

Anger over deaths caused by guns is boiling in Florida this summer. And controversy over the “stand your ground” legal principle in the state’s self-defense law is reaching a frenzy.

Please, let’s all take a deep breath, step back, and think about this slowly and carefully. It’s important for us to get the issues and facts straight. Fortunately, the Tampa Bay Times has published on each of the past two days excellent front-page news reports regarding the shooting death at a convenience store in Clearwater and the resulting controversy.

I recommend that everyone read the following two stories from start to finish. Not just the front page but the jump to an inside page. The stories are available on the Times website.

STORY ONE –“IN STAND YOUR GROUND CASES, DOES IT MATTER WHO STARTED IT?” With the secondary headline, “Not when the provocation is verbal, experts say, as the McGlockton case may show.” By Kathryn Varn, Tampa Bay Times, Sunday, Aug. 5, 2018, starting on the front page and continuing on page 4A. Importantly, the Times also published on the front page four large time-lapse photos that show quite clearly what happened outside the convenience store. Those photos may be the most important evidence in the case. They were provided by the Pinellas County Sheriff’s  Office. Clearwater is a city in Pinellas County. Many additional photos are on page 4A.

Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who has a law degree, has investigated the shooting death at the convenience store, and he is one of the people at the center of the controversy because he has declined to arrest the shooter, citing the stand-your-ground principal of Florida law. The case is not closed however, because the sheriff has forwarded the case to the state attorney, who has the final decision on whether to charge the shooter and prosecute the case.

STORY TWO — ” ‘Lock him up, or give up your badge’ ” With the secondary headline, “Marchers, candidates and civil rights activists call for an arrest in a store shooting and the repeal of the state’s stand your ground law.” By Tracey McManus and Langston Taylor, Tampa Bay Times, Monday, Aug. 6, 2018, starting on the front page and continuing on page 8A. The Times also published on the front page a large photo including the Rev. Al Sharpton and civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump at a Baptist church service Sunday afternoon. All five Democratic candidates for Florida governor in the November election and one candidate for state attorney general attended the church service and spoke from the pulpit, according to the news story. It said about 400 people filled the church and an additional 300 demonstrated outside.

Also on the front page is a photo of Markeis McGlockton, the black man who died from the gunshot. Also, a photo of protesters marching in Clearwater to demand justice for the deceased man. Notably, the protest-march photo shows numerous signs with the words: “MICHAEL DREJKA: THE PEOPLE SAY GUILTY.” Michael Drejka is the white man who fired the fatal shot at the convenience store. On page 8A is a photo of Crump holding Mr. McGlockton’s five-year-old son as Crump speaks at the  protest rally.

I believe that the above two news reports, taken together, and the accompanying photos, provide a comprehensive overview of the facts and issues. If the Tampa Bay Times continues such comprehensive coverage of the controversy, I believe the stories taken together might earn the paper a Pulitzer Prize.

I have to study the reports carefully, and still I have difficulty understanding the fine lines drawn around the right of self-defense.

— John Hayden

 

One Year In Florida

ducks for blog

THE DUCKS THINK THIS BRIDGE WILL TAKE THEM ACROSS THE BORDER TO CANADA. 

As of Aug. 1, I’ve been a Florida resident for one full year! Driver’s license, car registration, voter registration, all accomplished within the first couple of months. Survived my first hurricane, too. Last week, I signed a lease renewal. Small rent increase, now will pay $699 a month. And my typical electric bill is around $46. Zero commuting time and distance.

Won’t try to write a full account of the year, but if I did, it wouldn’t be long. Compared with the first nine months of 2017, which included putting my financial house in order and removing myself from Maryland to Florida, the past 12 months have been a walk in the park.

I met the neighbors in the other three apartments on my floor. Three lone individuals, like me. I speak to one of them nearly every day. Big improvement over the $900 basement apartment in wealthy Montgomery County, where my neighbors were the storage room, the trash room, and the laundry room.

I soon discovered two excellent public libraries and one big bookstore with excellent discounts. And I tried a few churches. Like everyone else, I shop at Publix supermarket and Walmart. Four cheap restaurants are nearby. They meet my need for simple food and ambiance. But I eat in the apartment a lot. I know where to recycle newspapers and aluminum cans, but not plastic bottles.

Each apartment has its own air conditioner outside. My unit died in early July. No problem. Apartment management installed a window unit to tide me over two days while a new outside air conditioner was installed. It is powerful and efficient. Inside air temperature is NOT a problem, I can assure you! The outdoor temperature, humidity and rain in summer, that’s another story. Don’t even want to talk about it.

You have not seen lightning until you’ve lived in the Tampa Bay region.

Full disclosure requires me to report that I turned 70 in June. I’ve been aging at an alarming rate the past few years. Sleep too much. I accomplished the move to Florida on adrenaline fumes. Did it in the nick of time; not sure I’d be able to manage such a feat five years hence.

Truth is, I’m well on the way to becoming a cynical old man. Possibly I’ve already arrived. If a man isn’t cynical at this point, he just hasn’t been paying attention.

The move to Florida was necessary, and possibly life-saving. I escaped the nasty winter cold and the impoverishing Montgomery County cost of living. I haven’t had bronchitis since departing Maryland. Here on the Gulf Coast of Florida, I survive nicely and balance my budget. And that’s enough honesty for one blog post.

— John

Goodbye Twitter

It’s early morning, but already I’ve accomplished something. A few moments ago, I deactivated my Twitter account.

Hadn’t much used the account for more than a year. Now, I simply do not want to be associated with Twitter in any way. I don’t want to say anything bad about Twitter. But I can’t think of anything good. Twitter is not making the world a better place. Let’s let it go at that.

Farewell Twitter! You will not be missed.

Will Facebook be next?

— John

End Of The Civil War

Quote

“Being on the wrong side of history carries consequences. V lives that truth every day. If you’ve done terrible things, lived a terrible way, profited from pain in the face of history’s power to judge, then guilt and loss accrue. Redemption becomes an abstract idea receding before you. Even if your sin — like dirt farmers in Sherman’s path — had been simply to live in the wrong place, you suffered. Didn’t matter whether you  owned slaves or which way you voted or how good your intentions had been. Or how bad. You might suffer as much as the family of a great plantation, which was maybe not completely just. But if you were the family with the great plantation, you had it coming. Those were times that required choosing a side — and then, sooner or later, history asks, which side were you on?”

— Charles Frazier, writing in “VARINA”

End Of The Civil War

Quote

“A part of her believed this one moment — Carolina woods, a wagonload of children, lights of heaven blazing on a clear spring night — was sufficient. An eternity in itself. A perfect instant if you erased guilt of the past and dread of the future.”

— Charles Frazier writing in “VARINA”

New York Times on Florida’s Nature Coast

Finally scored a copy of the New York Times on Friday. I have been sorely missing reading a good newspaper since I moved to Florida. (The Tampa Bay Times is OK, probably better than most  surviving metro dailies. But it is NOT the New York Times or the Washington Post.)

Publix in my neighborhood carries the New York Times, in theory. But only a few copies are delivered to the store, and they are snapped up quickly. As you may know, I’m not exactly an early riser. So the Times is always sold out for me. I’ve been told the customer service desk gets frequent requests from people who would like the store to hold a copy of the NYT. Far more requests than they can honor. I have yet to find any store in my area that carries The Washington Post. I like to think you could find the Times or the Post in Miami, maybe even in downtown Tampa or St. Petersburg.

But where I live, a little north of Tampa- St. Pete, no. Seems to me, this is a growing suburban area. Maybe the farthest northern reach of the Tampa Bay suburbs, but also the far southern tip of Florida’s more sparsely populated Nature Coast. Off the map as a prime newspaper circulation area. Despite the general decline in daily newspaper readership, the New York Times is definitely still in demand here in Florida. The demand is not being matched by supply. Maybe I can do something about that?

— John

God Save The Queen

America has nothing to match the British monarchy and royal family.

I’ve mostly ignored the royals, and I doubt I’m getting sentimental in my old age; I’m getting cynical. Never watched a royal wedding before, but Saturday I watched the entire ceremony in the cathedral, and a bit of the endless processionals before and after.

It was a well-choreographed show, with generally excellent execution, a splendid display of nationalist symbolism that has been perfected through centuries of practice. Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex, and Meghan Markle, now Duchess of Sussex, had the starring roles, and St. George’s Chapel was the setting.

But the royal wedding was about something far grander than one young couple. Harry is only sixth in the line of succession to the throne, after all. And where is Sussex?

The pageantry of the royal wedding generated strong and genuine emotion for millions of Queen Elizabeth’s subjects throughout the British Isles and the Commonwealth. Such symbolism and emotion, and the patriotism engendered, are of inestimable value.

The Queen and Prince Philip and the monarchy provide amazing spine-stiffening support for the British people and the British nation state.

By the end of the wedding, was there anyone in Britain who would take issue with the words “God save the Queen?”

— John