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Elon Musk on artificial intelligence

Forty years ago I argued that the idea that we would travel through space in ships (mechanical canisters) to find extra-terrestrial intelligence was one of the dumbest ideas ever, and that it would seem to future humans to have been incredibly culture-bound mechanistic idea. I suggested that the way we would first start to experience aliens was through computers.

Well, dear readers, Elon Musk agrees with me.

The business magnate, who was being interviewed by Mohammad Abdulla Alergawi, the Minister of Cabinet Affairs and the Future for the UAE, told the slightly perplexed crowd: “One of the most troubling questions is artificial intelligence. I don’t mean narrow A.I  – deep artificial intelligence, where you can have AI which is much smarter than the smartest human on earth. This is a dangerous situation.”

He also warned world governments: “Pay close attention to the development of artificial intelligence.

“Make sure researchers don’t get carried away – scientists get so engrossed in their work they don’t realise what they are doing.”

When asked if he thought A.I was a good or a bad thing Musk said: “I think it is both.

“One way to think of it is imagine you were very confident we were going to be visited by super intelligent aliens in 10 years or 20 years at the most.

 “Digital super intelligence will be like an alien.”

Issues with Globalization

In the article Globalization and its New Discontents, Joseph Stilglitz addresses some of the issues that have led to discontent with Globalization and free trade. He notes the following.

“Among the big winners were the global 1%, the world’s plutocrats, but also the middle class in newly emerging economies. Among the big losers – those who gained little or nothing – were those at the bottom and the middle and working classes in the advanced countries.”

This is time for people to rethink their ideological beliefs.

Globalization has led it equalization of wages, i.e. decrease in wages in developed word and increase in wages in the developing world. That is not a surprise and was suppose to happen. What is a surprise is that the significant economic growth was expected to offset this. For those who believe in free trade, this has been a tough fact to digest.

Why didn’t we get the significant economic growth that was expected? Why will Obama, the smartest president ever we were told, end his term without a single year of 3% GDP growth? Well, in contemporary history the two most successful presidents were Reagan (right of center) and Clinton (left of center). Both had one thing in common during their presidency, technological innovation. Former, personal computer and latter, internet, i.e. presidential policies have very little to do with economic growth despite what leftist believe. You can only dig so many holes and then cover them up.

With people looking after their own interest, is it any surprise that the global elite are in favour of free movement of people? One reason you see Facebook’s Zuckerberg urge for increase in immigration is so people like him can have access to cheap labour. This unfettered supply of labour is contrary to the interests of the working class and it is no wonder that Trump has found a ready forum.

As for Trump, affirmative action has given us a half-black and half-woman on the Democrat side. Clowns are people too so one has to give Trump a chance. If you look at the RCP average of polls it is amazing how he closes in on his wife, err opponent, and then he falls back. There is still a lot of ambivalence about him. He is doing it right lately by sticking to the script, or as Obama fans were fond of saying about him in 2008 “staying on the message”, so he might come out ahead.

Bourgeois Dignity: Why economics can’t explain the modern world


Deirdre McCloskey is a phenomenal writer, economist, and thinker. Visit her website for an explosion of academic productivity and a highly intelligent viewpoint. We share one thing in common. Both of us have had the gravest doubts that economics as it is usually practiced is capable of explaining much. My friend Oban calls it the anorexic profession: not merely starved, but self starving. Its insights are few, but powerful, but it has become wedded to asking very narrow questions and getting very narrow, if important, insights.

McCloskey breaks the mould. Here is how she begins Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can’t Explain the Modern World (2010) “Sixteen. The magic number is sixteen. The world is on average sixteen times wealthier than it was in 1800.” She finds that the economic discussion fails to comprehend or explain why ‘the largest revolution in human affairs since the invention of agriculture’, as she puts it, has occurred in the past two hundred years. She looks at all the explanations proferred by the economics profession , and finds them inadequate to explain the scale of the transformation from $3 a day world average in 1800 to $48 a day world average (or $147 a day in formerly impoverished Norway).

After demolishing the usual explanations (rule of law, expansion of trade, rise of the middle class – without reference to ideas, war, slavery, imperialism, or population growth) she settles on changed ideas and social attitudes towards innovation.

Changing social ideas, in short, explain the Industrial Revolution. Material and economic factors – such as trade or investment or exploitation or population growth or the inevitable rising of classes or the protections to private property – do not. They were unchanging backgrounds, or they had already happened long before, or they didn’t actually happen at the time they are supposed to have happened, or they were weak, or they were beside the point, or they were consequences of the rhetorical change, or they required the dignity and liberty of ordinary people to have the right effect. And it seems that such material events were not in turn the main causes of the ethical and rhetorical change itself.

Most of the book consists of a careful elimination of the causes usually offered for the Industrial Revolution, and involves naturally a series of disputes with the standard materialistic explanations offered by the economics profession. Many if not most of the economists with whom she disputes  have been at various times her teachers, mentors or students, and on the whole the arguments are kept at the friendly tone with which old friends argue.

I grant that I am inclined to non-materialist explanations. Materialism is the doctrine that there is only matter and its motions, and that mind is an epiphenomenon, as a shadow is to the body for example, and not a primary cause in its own right. Yet anything we know to be important in our own lives has occurred by decisions we have made, that led to actions on our part.

McCloskey argues in this book that the standard sets of explanations for the huge rise in human wealth since 1800 are insufficient, when they are not merely wrong. Bourgeois Dignity is the second of a series of six books she has planned. The next in the series, Bourgeois Equality (2015) is already out. I have already ordered it.

McCloskey is one of those writers who are so enlightening and well argued that you need not fully agree in order to profit from them greatly.

She may think it relevant, but I do not, that she underwent a sex change from man to woman in 1995. More pertinent, in my view, was that she was an atheist and is now an Episcopalian, and was an acolyte of Milton Friedman and now entertains a broader conception of her profession.


What science fiction got wrong

We were drinking at Irene’s the other night, guys of a certain age. We were contemplating what science fiction got wrong, what assumptions science fiction writers made in the 1960s that did prove true.

If you were young in the sixties, you were exposed to Robert Heinlein, J.G. Ballard, A.E.Van Vogt, and many others. One man who appears more and more significant as time passes is Philip K. Dick, 1928-1982, whose stories have been the basis of numerous science fiction movies, most notably Blade Runner, but also including Johnny Mnemomic, Total Recall, Minority Report and others. I have just finished reading a handsome hardback compendium of four of Dick’s most significant short stories.



Philip Kindred Dick, 1928-1982

It is curious and interesting that Dick was no better at predicting the technical attributes of what was, in 1965,  the near future of 2015, than any of the more conventional science fiction writers. Despite imagining psychoactive drugs engendering collective participatory social hallucinations, and the commercial battles for world control that would come from such hallucinogenic drugs, he was as unable as Heinlein to imagine how different the world would be socially from 1965 to 2016. Moreover, the common theme of the science fiction writers was that transportation would be the area of human endeavour   subject to the greatest changes, not communications and computers.

Thus, for all of them, it seems, it was possible to conceive of colonizing Mars by 2015, but that women would still work as secretaries answering telephones. There would still be switchboards, and paper messages left by one’s secretary.

It is quite bizarre, how completely unforeseen was the effect of the computer in the science fiction of the era 1950-1975.

Today, contrary to the order foreseen by the imaginations of 1965, the communications revolution is invading transportation. The combination of massive computer power, and ubiquitous wireless networks, will keep driverless cars on the road and not colliding. What will Google do with all the terabytes of information that the automated car will collect every block, every mile of driving? It will process the information to improve the algorithms governing the car. Cars increasingly are computers with engines and wheels attached.

You have probably heard the story of the poor computer who (should I say “which”?) was tricked by humans into talking and responding like a devoted Nazi? It is going to take as much learning as a human has to go through to prevent  other humans from conning the interface bot into a completely false appreciation of reality. How do humans treat the rube from the country? the sucker born every minute? We con them. We cannot help it.  We engender lack of trust and a resulting degree of skepticism in younger minds as a cruel duty.

If every science fiction writer I know assumed that transportation was going to be revolutionized first, and computers and their social impacts were almost completely unforeseen, then how good are we at envisioning the future, thirty to forty years out?

Which is a way of saying that Nicholas Taleb was on to something vitally important in The Black Swan. There is the known, the (known) unknown, and the unknowable, and of all of them, the unknowable is an immensity beyond …knowing.

We will rely massively on driverless cars long before we have colonies on Mars. That is predictable now. Thus it is safe to say that, projecting forty years out, society will be different in ways we cannot now imagine. Whatever that change is, it will have nothing to do with Islam, the role of women, energy policy, gay rights, human fertility and reproduction, or anthropogenic global warming. It will be unimaginable.



New and important: practicable space exploration



Yuri Milner, a Russian zillionaire, is proposing to spend $100 million on light sail driven space probes that could reach Alpha Centauri within about 20 years. He has recruited Stephen Hawking to shill for him and has enlisted Mark Zuckerberg for his board of directors.

Alpha Centauri is the closest star to us, at 4 light-years. The light sails are expected to be accelerated to 1/5th C, the speed of light, by a powerful laser.

At noon [yesterday, in fact] today, Yuri Milner, the Russian tech billionaire, will join Stephen Hawking atop Manhattan’s Freedom Tower, where the pair will announce Starshot, a $100 million dollar research program, the latest of Milner’s “Breakthrough Initiatives.” (Mark Zuckerberg will serve on Starshot’s board, alongside Milner and Hawking.) With the money, Milner hopes to prove that a probe could make the journey to Alpha Centauri in only 20 years.

It was great to hear some hopeful news for a change.

On reflection, it is obvious that our own planet’s system might well have been mapped by tiny invisible cameras carried by light sails from another star system in any age past. Going further afield from our mechanistic 21st century headspace, we might allow ourselves to consider the view held by Terence McKenna. He held that the most practical way to get to distant stars is by spores travelling through the depths of cold, foodless, and irradiated space. His view – or, according to what the psychedelic mushrooms told him – their story, was that the mushrooms he ingested travelled as spores between star systems, and can colonize any carbon based system, and communicate with the minds of those that happen to eat them.

If you think this method of interstellar travel and communication is weirder than micron-thin lightsails being sent by lasers, that is merely a local and chronic (centred on our own time) prejudice. Expand the range of allowed possibilities. There is no reason to consider current human technologies, and human-only communications, as the only ways to get around this galaxy.

McKenna’s True Hallucinations is well worth a read. And if a taste for psychedelics makes me a bad conservative…I offer no apologies. The same taste made me immune to all materialistic doctrines: marxism, materialism, reductionism, freudianism, and any of the nonsense so well described in Roger Scruton’s Fools, Frauds and Firebrands.



Chronicle of Folly: Hedy Fry and the Internet

“Chronicle of folly” is the name that could just as well be attached to any serious blog. The world is too much with us and the follies are gigantic and continuing, on this we are all agreed. No sooner do we rid the world of a serious belief in the state’s owning the means of production (communism) than it resuscitates itself as the global warming panic, which calls for anti-market governance by bureaucrats seeking to adjust our carbon outputs, as if carbon dioxide were not one of the bases of life. There will be no end to it as long as humans are in charge.

But to today’s sermon will address a smaller and more parochial aspect of the march of folly: local news. It appears to our federal parliamentarians that there is a crisis in local news which needs fixing, and probably by state intervention.


Certifiable nut-job Hedy Fry, chairman of the House Committee on Heritage (which covers such matters as the CRTC, broadcasting, newspapers) is launching an inquiry. The CBC reports:

The Commons committee will embark on an expansive study of “how Canadians, and especially local communities, are informed about local and regional experiences through news, broadcasting, digital and print media,” according to a motion passed Tuesday.

It will also delve into media concentration, and its impact on local news reporting, and how digital media fits into the whole picture. The MPs have committed to no less than 10 meetings for the study.

Now here’s the rub:

The fear is that with the decline of a strongly Canadian news industry, any shared sense of national identity is also in peril.

Fry says the study will take a close look at the shifting information consumption habits of Canadians, and whether they are getting enough Canadian content online.

It is inevitable that this kind of political exercize will wring its hands about national identity and bemoan the fact that we are not getting enough Canadian content on line. How much is enough? Even to ask that question is to posit a point of view from which to judge the matter, and that point of view is statist, or dirigiste. It assumes there is a “we” that knows, or can ever know, and that “we”, in the context of a federal government inquiry, consists of the chattering class opinion, largely Liberal, that will submit its report and call for “dialogue”, a “conversation” on national identity, and suggest means of controlling the Internet for the betterment of Canadian national identity.

This vision of the anointed will have to face the wrath of the Canadian people. We have moved on, while our governing classes seem locked in a worldview that we need the state-licensed, advertizing-supported video of the broadcasting industry . We have become used to getting our information in new ways. Even I, still a subscriber to a physical newspaper, have become used to gleaning information and opinion from twenty or thirty sources, and occasionally perusing another fifty blog sites. I do not feel I am underinformed. I do not feel the lack of fifteen pounds of newspaper accumulating every month for disposal. My biggest concern for the future of the news paper is to find a source of kindling material for my woodstoves in the country.

The legal hook that will become apparent is that the Internet is not regulated by the CRTC and the broadcasting industry is.  The CRTC claims jurisdiction over the Internet to the extent it carries full motion video. Full motion video = “programming” and “programming” = “broadcasting”. That is how their interpretation of the law works.  They have maintained that view  since they first heard of the Internet back in the nineteen nineties. No technical reality of any kind has been allowed to interfere with their interpretation of the law. The Commission has chosen not to regulate the Internet solely on the basis that they have been unable to detect the harm done to the Canadian broadcasting system by the Internet.

Clearly the economic harm is mounting. It is as if the farriers, saddlemakers and ostlers got to determine whether the automobile was a threat to horse-centric transportation.

This recondite legal matter would have no importance but for one huge thing. To “broadcast” is to require a legal licence from the CRTC. To “broadcast” without a licence is to engage in a very serious crime, with enormous financial penalties and possibilities of jail time. According to the CRTC’s interpretation, this blog and the rest of the sites on the Internet within Canadian jurisdiction become licensable undertakings at the Commission’s discretion a) if they use video and b) are found in their collective economic effects, as a matter of fact, to be harming the licensees of the regulated broadcasting industry.

The advocates of the program production industry in Canada will tell us that they have just a little “Netflix” tax for us to help sustain the Canadian broadcasting industry. It won’t hurt and it will only apply to some minuscule part of the Internet.

Wait until you see the jihad (crusade if you prefer) unleashed by the Canadian public on the government and the CRTC when they try this. But as to the newspaper owners, who significantly overlap broadcast television owners, will they rise in revolt, or apply for “broadcasting” subsidies for their “local” news outlets?


PS: This is Dr. Hedy Fry, she of the accusations of cross-burnings on the lawns of interior British Columbia towns. She would not know how to find where the interior of British Columbia is, from her riding in downtown west-end Vancouver. The BC interior begins at Coquitlam, for this lady, if not Burrard Street.

The press:Internet::sailing ships:modern navies

My esteemed colleague Blair Atholl has made a point in his posting about the printing press that goes deeper than disaffection with the spinelessness of Canadian journalism, or its reflexive collective leftism.

Observations about the leftism of the press are accurate but do not address the major point of Blair Atholl’s, which is that the printing press, as a means of distribution of news and opinion on an industrial scale, is finished, and that as a means of delivering the advertizing that pays for the news, the press has been displaced by a technology which targets ads much more accurately to specialized tastes and interests. That technology is one you are reading now.

You will note that opinion of the kind you like to read, such as ours for instance, is delivered free by four people who among them have between 10 and 12 university degrees.

This rivals what either the Globe or the National Post could deliver on any given day.

All you have to do is show up at Barrelstrength, or any of your favourite opinion sites.

The price of a subscription to Barrelstrength, or Watts up with That, or Matt Ridley, is zero. How we make our livings is not your concern, nor should it be.

The doomist premise is that news of City Hall will not be collected in the new post-print dispensation; the likely outcome is that news will be collected and disseminated whether for free or for pay as long as anyone wants to know about the doings of City Hall. The technology whereby this is done is changing, and the mourning for the printing press and the journalism it generated is akin to the mourning for the navy of wooden sailing ships. They were magnificent in their time and they have gone. Navies persist.

Sabotage as normal bureaucratic behaviour




A declassified CIA document called “Simple Sabotage” makes fascinating reading. It is impossible to discern what differentiates sabotage, as a deliberate ploy to slow down production,  from everyday behaviour typical inside a bureaucracy. Just think of Wally in Dilbert, and see how many characteristics of Wally are found below. Or if you work in government or a large private company,  download and widely distribute the CIA handbook on “Simple Sabotage” to your co-workers. See if anyone recognizes themselves. See if you can spot your own behaviour. Are you a saboteur?

Simple sbotage does not require specially prepared tools or equipment; it is executed by an ordinary citizen who may or may not act individually and without the necessity for active connection with an organized group; and it is carried out in such a way as to involve a minimum danger of injury, detection, and reprisal.
Where destruction is involved, the weapons
of the citizen-saboteur are salt, nails, candles, pebbles, thread, or any other materials he might normally be expected to possess as a householder or as a worker in his particular occupation.His arsenal is the kitchen shelf, the trash pile, his own usual kit of tools and supplies. The targets of his
sabotage are usually objects to which he has normal and conspicuous access in everyday life.

The interesting thing is that acts of bureaucratic sabotage are indistinguishable from behaviour we would normally call “bureaucratic”.

(a) Organizations and Conferences
(1) Insist on doing everything through
“channels.” Never permit short-cuts to be taken
in order to expedite decisions.
(2) Make “speeches,” Talk as frequently as possible and at great length., Illustrate your”points” by long anecdotes and accounts of personal experiences. Never hesitate to make a few appropriate “patriotic” comments.
(3) When possible, refer all matters to committees, for “further study and consideration.” Attempt to make the committees as large as possible, never less than five.
(4) Bring up irrelevant issues as frequently
as possible.
(5) Haggle over precise wordings of communications, minutes, resolutions.
(6)Refer back to matters decided upon at the last meeting and attempt to re-open the question of the advisability of that decision.
(7) Advocate “caution.” Be “reasonable” and urge your fellow-conferees to be “reasonable” and avoid haste which might result in embarrassments or difficulties later on.
(8) Be worried about the propriety of any  decision; raise the question of whether such action as is contemplated is within the jurisdiction of the group or whether it might conflict with the policy of some higher echelon.
(b) Managers and Supervisors
(1) Demand written orders.
(2) “Misunderstand”  orders. Ask endless
questions or engage in long correspondence
about such orders. Quibble over them when you
(3) Do everything possible to delay -the
delivery of orders. Even though parts of an order
may be ready beforehand, don’t deliver it until
it is completely ready.
(4) Don’t order new working’ materials until your current stocks have been virtually exhausted, so that the slightest delay in filling your order will mean a shutdown.
(5) Order high-quality materials which are
hard to get. If you don’t get them argue about
it. Warn that inferior materials will mean inferior work.
(6) In making work assignments, always sign out the unimportant jobs first. See that the important jobs are assigned to inefficient workers of poor machines.
(7) Insist on perfect work in relatively unimportant products; send back for refinishing those which have the least flaw. Approve other defective parts whose flaws are not visible to the naked eye.
(8) Make mistakes in routing so that parts
and materials will be sent to the wrong place in
the plant.
(9) When training new workers, give incomplete or misleading instructions.
(10) To lower morale and with it, production, be pleasant to inefficient workers; give them undeserved promotions. Discriminate against efficient workers; complain unjustly about their work.
(11) Hold conferences when there is more critical work to be done.
(12) Multiply paper work in plausible ways.
Start duplicate files.
(13) Multiply the procedures and clearances
involved in issuing instructions, pay checks, and
so on. See that three people have to approve
everything where one would do..
(14) Apply all regulations to the last letter.
(c) Office Workers
(1) Make mistakes in quantities of material
when you’ are copying orders. Confuse similar
names. Use wrong addresses.
(2) Prolong correspondence with government bureaus.
(3) Misfile essential documents.
(4) In making carbon copies, make one too
few, so that an extra copying job will have to
be done.
(5) Tell important callers the boss is busy
or talking on another telephone.
(6) Hold up mail until the next collection.
(7)Spread disturbing rumors that sound
like inside dope.
(d) Employees
(1)Work slowly.Think out ways to increase the number of movements necessary on your job: use a light hammer instead of a heavy one, try to make a small wrench do when a big one is necessary, use little force where considerable force is needed, and so on.
(2) Contrive as many interruptions to your
work as you can: when changing the material
on which you are working, as you would on a
lathe or punch, take needless time to do it. If
you are cutting, shaping or doing other measured work, measure dimensions -twice as often
as you need to. When you go to the lavatory,
spend a longer time there than is necessary.
Forget tools so that you will have to go back after them.
(3) Even it you understand the language,
pretend not to understand instructions in a
foreign tongue.
(4) Pretend that instructions are hard to understand, and ask to have them repeated more than once. Or pretend that you are particularly anxious to do your work, and pester the foreman with unnecessary questions.
(5) Do your work poorly and blame it on
bad tools, machinery, or equipment. Complain
that these things are preventing you from doing
your job right.
(6) Never pass on your skill and experience
to a new or less skillful worker.
(7)  Snarl up administration in every possible way. Fill out forms illegibly so, that they will have to be done over; make mistakes or omit requested information in forms.
(8) If possible, join or help organize a group
for presenting employee problems to the management. See that the procedures adopted are
as inconvenient as possible for the management,
involving the presence of a large number of
employees at each presentation, entailing more
than one meeting for each grievance, bringing
up problems which are largely imaginary, and
so on.
(9) Misroute materials.
(10) Mix good parts with unusable scrap and
rejected parts.
General Devices for Lowering Morale and Creating Confusion
(a) Give lengthy and incomprehensible explanations when questioned.

(b). Report imaginary spies or danger to the Gestapo or police.

(c) Act stupid.

(d) Be as irritable and, quarrelsome as possible.
without getting yourself into trouble.
wally on productivity

Stars and planets



This morning I awoke after a long deep sleep and headed outdoors shortly before dawn. The weather was September cool, the sky clear. A huge blazing star caught my attention in the east. Time for the sky map, an app for the handheld which explains every star and planet in the sky.

The Mobius Sky Map solves the problem of light sources. All the old analog star charts had to be read in darkness, and so a light source had to be found by which to read it. The light caused one’s eyes to not be able to see the stars – a vicious circle. Today the star chart is its own source of light.

I walked up the road to a clearing, and there in all their glory were Venus, Mars and Jupiter in a rough vertical line rising from the eastern horizon. My sky map also showed that the sun was below the horizon, with Mercury near it.

The genius of these systems is that they work day and night. You can point them through the earth and they will show you stars you cannot see in the northern hemisphere. They pay no attention to the presence of the earth below your feet, the obstruction of trees or buildings.

The device locates your latitude and longitude via satellites, and from that inertial moment the rest of the stars and planets are displayed in the system according to where they should be, with little labels for constellations and stars. The system is beautiful and adds greatly to one’s enjoyment of the night sky.