All posts filed under: Tech

A World Without Animal Farming

A Review of The End of Animal Farming: How Scientists, Entrepreneurs, and Activists Are Building an Animal-Free Food System, by Jacy Reese (Beacon Press, November 6 2018, 240 pages).  In a world distressingly full of evil, we can discern moral progress by looking at the benighted past. Only two lifetimes ago educated people endorsed chattel slavery. The raises the sobering question: how might present arrangements appear to inhabitants of a more enlightened future civilization? Supposing that moral progress continues, there’s good reason to expect that our descendants will wince when they reflect upon our treatment of animals. Every year, tens of billions of land animals, and more sea creatures, are killed in so-called “factory farms,” having lived lives of unrelieved mental and physical anguish, because humans enjoy eating their flesh. A chilling line in Thucydides’ Peloponnesian Wars comes to mind. The Greek historian reports a dialogue between a group of Athenian emissaries and the representatives of Melos, a city-state that wanted to remain neutral in the war between Athens and Sparta. The emissaries bluntly assert that …

What Can Artificial Intelligence Teach Us About Political Polarization?

It’s become increasingly difficult to ignore the exponential progress that’s been made in the field of artificial intelligence. From self-driving cars to nearly flawless speech synthesis, things most of us thought impossible only a decade ago are now a practical reality. Virtually all of these developments have exploited what has turned out to be one of the most fruitful analogies ever made: that of the human brain to a computer. In particular, the development of neural networks—arguably the most successful family of artificial intelligence models—was explicitly inspired by the structure and function of the brain. For about a decade, we’ve exploited the brain/computer analogy by drawing inspiration from the brain to build better and better AI systems. But now that our technology has in many respects caught up to, and even exceeded, human performance, it’s worth asking the question in reverse: what insights can we borrow from artificial intelligence, to better understand our own brains and reasoning processes, and how they can go wrong? As it turns out, there are quite a few, and they …

Google’s China Ambitions Threaten U.S. National Security

A month before the 2024 elections the Chinese dictator issues an ultimatum to the U.S. president: Abandon defense of Taiwan or Google will politically destroy you. If your navy does not immediately leave the Taiwan Strait, Google’s algorithms will send each American the news articles that would make them the most likely to vote against your party. But why, you might ask, would Google ever help China blackmail the American president?  Google has probably discussed altering search results to influence U.S. elections. The tech giant is also probably willing to censor information in China as the price of admission to that country’s market. It doesn’t seem too great a leap forward to imagine Google biasing search results in the U.S. to appease the Chinese Communist Party. While today China might be satisfied putting spy chips on hardware used by American tech companies, in the future it could use its economic power to dictate what these businesses do during times of international crisis. I don’t blame Google for being willing to bend its ethical standards to …

Banning Bitcoin to Complete Big Tech Censorship

Bitcoin’s survival might prove intolerable to our Internet gatekeepers. To rid the web of troublesome opinion makers you ban them from online platforms while terminating their ability to raise funds from supporters.  Corporate giants can use their control over Internet and financial chokepoints to almost accomplish this, but Bitcoin’s decentralized network means that regardless of how much corporate America hates some commentator, it can’t stop you from sending her cryptocurrency.  If a Democrat wins the Presidency in 2020, I predict a serious attempt to close this loophole by criminalizing Bitcoins. Big tech has awoken to its power and started suppressing views it deems hateful.  The Nazi website Stormfront was kicked off the Internet.  Facebook, Apple, YouTube, and Spotify all decided, on the same day, to deplatform Alex Jones.  Islam critic Lauren Southern has been kicked off Pateron, a service many use to raise funds from supporters.  YouTube has demonitized and restricted videos from Jordan Peterson, Dave Rubin, and Gad Saad.  President Trump has accused social media of “totally discriminating against Republican/Conservative voices.” Big tech wants …

Why Politics Needs the Futuristic Perspective

Politicians are constantly fighting for policies that future generations will find laughable at best, morally atrocious at worst. Just consider “Jobs for Everyone!” or “Build the Wall!”—except imagine it’s 100 years from now and there are no jobs or national borders…  Taking this 100-year view, many of the best-known politicians quickly fade into irrelevance. There is one political figure who comes prominently into focus in this view, however. That’s Zoltan Istvan, the unsuccessful but often newsworthy former candidate for US president and California governor. Even if you’re opposed to libertarianism (Zoltan’s adopted political platform) and uninspired by tranhumanism (Zoltan’s political hobbyhorse), still, it’s worth considering the unique perspective Zoltan Istvan brings to our chronically shortsighted political landscape. Unlike any other political figure, he champions long-view causes like you’d never believe. Unapologetically, he’s one-hundred percent all-in for long-view causes. Here’s a taste. If you were an interviewer, you’d likely want to ask Mr. Istvan about some hot button issue, like…abortion. Well—that’s an easy one! He’s a libertarian, so he’ll likely just begin by vocalizing libertarian standardisms. …

Diversity and Discrimination in Open Source

Back in May, I decided to leave the LLVM project, to which I was a contributor. I announced this decision in an open letter to my colleagues, which received some coverage in the technical press at the time, and a number of requests for further comment, which I declined. In what follows, I want to elaborate upon my reasons for leaving and explain what I think is going wrong in open source generally, and at LLVM in particular. First, for those unfamiliar with the tech world, a little background. Software is commonly developed and made available to the public in one of two ways: either proprietary software is developed privately inside a company and sold for a fee, or open source software, as the name implies, is developed in the open for anyone to use and improve. Microsoft’s Office is an example of the former, and the Linux operating system is an example of the latter. Among programmers, there are ongoing discussions about the advantages and disadvantages of both models. I have been attracted to the open …

Social Media: The Case for Deactivation

In 2017, an article sub-titled “The More You Use Facebook, the Worse You Feel” appeared in my Facebook newsfeed. I found it scientifically rigorous and persuasive, and so, not wanting to feel worse, I deactivated my Facebook account. But then in the months that followed, I found scientific arguments that seemingly come to the opposite conclusion, namely, that social media are good for you. It turns out that I had only scratched the surface of a mountain of writing on this topic. So which is it? Should I re-activate my Facebook account? Should you deactivate yours? To answer these questions, we need a common currency for measuring the costs and benefits of using Facebook, and other major social media platforms like Snapchat and Instagram. Surprisingly, perhaps, the mountain of articles on this topic doesn’t yet include this kind of systematic cost-benefit analysis. One of my goals here is to provide one. Drawing on the last two decades of scientific research, I’ll show that major social media platforms do more harm than good, thereby increasing the …

Why the Techlash Won’t Go Away

“This would probably not have happened if Hillary had won the 2016 presidential race,” is the kind of comment you may hear these days around Silicon Valley as gloomy high-tech titans are forced to contend with a growing political backlash against what critics allege is the concentrated wealth and power in the hands of omnipotent tech companies. And they accuse social media and other online services of posing risks to national security and to freedom of speech, with both Republican and Democratic lawmakers calling for some form of government regulation of the Internet. Hell hath no fury like an Internet Utopianist scorned. The irony is that much of this backlash, or “tech-lash”, has been driven by many of the same Democrats that companies like Google and Facebook had backed during the presidential campaign, when employees of Alphabet Inc., Google’s parent company, donated US$1.6 million to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign, or about 80 percent more than the amount given by workers at any other corporation, according to The Wall Street Journal.  And Eric Schmidt, the …

The Case for Electric Vehicles

Elon Musk is trying to lead the world to a better place with his commitment to electric vehicles. Specifically, he is leading American middle-class families of the future towards cheaper, more efficient cars and energy usage. Musk’s desire to make America competitive in the budding electric car market is not only good for American consumers, but it is also good for the United States: it will help make the country more energy independent, thereby liberating America from having to depend on dubious oil-producing states. Musk should not only be commended for his pioneering work, but the United States government should continue subsidizing his work to remain competitive in the 21st century economy. Since its inception in 2006, Tesla Motors has contributed significantly to research into and development of the electric car in the United States. The electric car is not a new idea. Yet, it never fully captured the imagination of Americans the way the traditional fossil fuel-powered vehicle did. However, the Great Recession of 2008 (and the anemic recovery that followed), placed many Americans …

Is There a Future for Human Spaceflight?

On February 6, Elon Musk and his company Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) accomplished the maiden launch of their Falcon Heavy rocket. It was exhilarating to watch, even vicariously through the Internet. The payload, one of Musk’s red Tesla sports cars, is now on a deep space trajectory that will see it reach out beyond the orbit of Mars before swinging back inward on a permanent and repeatable arch about the Sun. This much lauded success brings Musk one step closer to his personal goal of establishing a human settlement on another world. While certainly a happy day for Musk and his space company, other space visionaries wishing to establish a human foothold in space have recently recorded less spectacular progress. This past Fall, XCORE – a company developing a spacecraft to transport tourists to space – announced it had filed for chapter 7 bankruptcy. And, not so long-ago, Richard Branson’s company Virgin Galactic – also a space tourism company – suffered a fatal crash of its SpaceShipOne vehicle during testing, an accident that has significantly …