News — At The Edge — 9/16
Only one issue sought attention this week.
- An outline of our future — tech companies help advance authoritarianism, global military AI arms race, and limited options for humanity — where things do not look good for worthwhile civilizational progress.
It is a dismal picture I have written about extensively. For example:
Our Twilight Zone & What Comes Next *
“You’re traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind.”
The Evolution of Mind Games
In biological evolution, natural selection is agnostic about what succeeds or fails. But being agnostic isn’t an option…
Civilization’s Anti-Human, Not Machines
April 2000, as millennium celebrations passed into history, Silicon Valley luminary, Bill Joy, wrote a provocative…
Quicksand of Our Past
History teaches men and nations behave wisely once they have exhausted all other alternatives. [Eban]
An outline of our future –
“A troubling trend is sweeping Silicon Valley…[in] acquiescing to digital authoritarianism to gain access to the Chinese market…[that] will have harrowing political consequences in the long term….When big tech bends its principles to limbo into Chinese markets, it encourages other…companies and institutions to do so as well….
[An] example is Cambridge University Press…[that] removed hundreds of academic articles from the website…in response to Chinese authorities deeming them controversial. After outcry…[University] reversed its decision — but the fact remains that they were willing to censor peer-reviewed academic research.
At best, such decisions risk entrenching the status quo — China has already ranked as the lowest in the world in Internet freedom…. At worst, these moves encourage…Chinese government to build a digital dictatorship. Chinese AI research and production is set to supersede the US….
Repressive governance could, to a large extent, become an automated affair. China has already implemented a frightening…a ‘social credit score’…[and] governments, from Mexico to Ecuador and Venezuela, have deployed surveillance and intelligence systems against political opposition.
The possibility of AI autocracy in the People’s Republic is real, and it is one that Western tech companies are tacitly endorsing when they choose to forfeit digital rights in favor of market access. It would also be naïve to assume this form AI autocracy will stay put….Authoritarians have a way of sharing repressive technology….
Two-thirds of all internet users worldwide live in countries where criticism of the authorities is subject to censorship. It would be reasonable…to assume that China’s AI authoritarian model…could become the soft-power the country has lacked….In an era where the leader of the free world is emboldening authoritarians…the onus falls on civil society and the private sector to maintain and promote liberal democratic values…privacy, security and digital rights around the world….
It is impossible to decouple business decisions in the tech community from responsibility for the consequences that result from them.” https://techcrunch.com/2017/09/06/tech-companies-automate-autocratic-media-in-china-around-the-world/
“Megvii in Beijing [has]…300,000 companies and individuals around the world use its face-recognition technology…[in] two categories: the underlying capability and the applications….
Megvii’s customers can upload a batch of photos and names, and use them to train algorithms…[and] have access to the Chinese government’s image database of 700m citizens…[and] country’s hundreds of millions of surveillance cameras will soon recognize faces…to identify jaywalkers [and]…catch thieves of toilet paper in public restrooms (its system also prevents people from taking more than 60 centimeters of paper within a nine-minute period)….
[A] chain of convenience stores…[using] facial scans when people enter its stores in order to study their behavior. Several Chinese banks now let users identify themselves at ATMs with their faces. The West is further behind….
Facebook has gone furthest by having its members tag friends on photos so the firm’s algorithms can recognize them on other pictures. Google employs the technology in order to group pictures that users have uploaded….Video cameras could…recognize loyal customers and VIPs who deserve special treatment…[and] detect dissatisfaction on shoppers’ faces and dispatch staff to intervene….
[T]he spread of these services has already prompted efforts to thwart them…. Yet it is unlikely that such ‘adversarial attacks’…will keep face recognition from being widely used.” https://www.economist.com/news/business/21728654-chinas-megvii-has-used-government-collected-data-lead-sector-ever-better-and-cheaper
“Putin, ‘Artificial intelligence is the future for all humankind…[and] the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world’… is the latest sign of an intensifying race among Russia, China, and the US to accumulate military power based on artificial intelligence…[as] ‘the key technology underpinning national power in the future’…[and] could shake up armed conflict as significantly as nuclear weapons did….
[China] strategy designed to make the country ‘the front-runner and global innovation center in AI’ by 2030….Pentagon has been developing a strategy known as the ‘Third Offset’…[for] weapons powered by smart software…[and] established the Algorithmic Warfare Cross-Functional Team to improve use of AI technologies…across the Pentagon.
Russia lags China and the US in sophistication and use of automation and AI, but is expanding its own investments through a military modernization program…[with] a target of making 30 percent of military equipment robotic by 2025….China’s AI strategy attempts to directly link commercial and defense developments in AI….
Russia may be willing to use machine learning and AI more aggressively than its rivals in intelligence and propaganda campaigns. Automation could enhance the power of hacking and social-media campaigns like those deployed in the 2016 US election…. ‘It would be strongly undesirable if someone wins a monopolist position.” https://www.wired.com/story/for-superpowers-artificial-intelligence-fuels-new-global-arms-race/
“We stand at a watershed moment…[with] artificial intelligence (AI) [making]…ever more and better recommendations and decision-making, while minimizing interference from complicated, political humans…[creating] major questions about the degree of human choice and inclusion…[in] this brave new world of machine meritocracy….
Existing work and life patterns are changing forever. Our creation is running circles around us, faster than we can count the laps…[and] starting to make decisions for us without our conscious involvement…[using] our past patterns and those of allegedly similar people across the world….
[Increasingly] we choose to trust a machine to ‘get us right’…[and] to know us in, perhaps, more honest ways than we know ourselves — at least from a strictly rational perspective. But the machine will not readily account for cognitive disconnects between that which we purport to be and that which we actually are…what we wish we were or what we hope to become….
[Certainly] some personal decisions should be driven by more objective analysis….But it might also polarize societies by pushing us further into bubbles of like-minded people…without the random opportunity to check them, defend them, and be forced to rethink them…[like] ‘digital social engineering’ [or]…gerrymandering with political operatives using AI to lure voters of certain profiles into certain districts years ahead of elections….
A machine judges us on our expressed values…yet overlooks other deeply held values that we have suppressed or that are dormant at any given point in our lives. An AI might not account for newly formed beliefs or changes in what we value….
[We] regularly make value trade-offs within the context of the situation at hand, and sometimes those situations have little or no codified precedent for an AI to process….[A] machine might discriminate…based on pattern recognition and broad statistical averages….
Will the AI favor the survival of the fittest, the most liked or the most productive? Will it make those decisions transparently? What will our recourse be? ….
We stand at the threshold of an evolutionary explosion unlike anything in the last millennium. Explosions and revolutions are messy, murky, and fraught with ethical pitfalls….
Whether in an economic, social or political context, we as a society must start to identify rights, responsibilities and accountability guidelines for inclusiveness and fairness at the intersections of AI with our human lives. Without it, we will not establish enough trust in AI to capitalize on the amazing opportunities it could afford us.” https://medium.com/world-economic-forum/to-live-in-harmony-with-ai-we-must-create-a-modern-magna-carta-c0be06d67247
“[Today] world is made up of nation-states [yet]…[in] mid-19th century…world was a sprawl of empires, unclaimed land, city-states and principalities, which travelers crossed without checks or passports….
There are now 193 nation-states…[with] borders, centralized…sovereign authority is increasingly out of step…[as] climate change, internet governance and international crime all seemed beyond the nation-state’s abilities….Voters were quick to spot all this and stopped bothering to vote, making matters worse….
Digital technology doesn’t really like the nation-state…[as] millions of people using bitcoin and blockchain technologies, explicitly designed to wrestle control of the money supply from central banks and governments…continue to grow….If a nation cannot defend its border, it ceases to exist in any meaningful way….
[T]he crux of the problem: nation-states rely on control. If they can’t control information, crime, businesses, borders or the money supply, then they will cease to deliver what citizens demand of them. In the end, nation-states are nothing but agreed-upon myths: we give up certain freedoms in order to secure others. But if that transaction no longer works, and we stop agreeing on the myth, it ceases to have power over us….
[F]or the first time in history…the majority of humans live in cities. ‘Power in the 21st century belongs to the problem-solvers. National governments debate and dither….As today’s centers of urban global capitalism, major cities are more similar to each other than the provinces of their own nation-states….[Despite] online direct-democracy voting, building smart-cities, using crypto-currencies….
Nation-states are unlikely to collapse overnight. There are no barbarians at the gate….If our political arrangements are a mirror of the modes of production and assumptions of the time, the future…looks far brighter for the modern, connected, agile city…to have some experiments going on, just in case.” https://aeon.co/essays/the-end-of-a-world-of-nation-states-may-be-upon-us
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