Resisting Reduction: A Manifesto

The idea that we exist for the sake of progress, and that progress requires unconstrained and exponential growth, is the whip that lashes us. Modern companies are the natural product of this paradigm in a free-market capitalist system. Norbert Wiener called corporations “machines of flesh and blood” and automation “machines of metal.” The new species of Silicon Valley mega companies—the machines of bits—are developed and run in great part by people who believe in a new religion, Singularity. This new religion is not a fundamental change in the paradigm, but rather the natural evolution of the worship of exponential growth applied to modern computation and science. The asymptote of the exponential growth of computational power is artificial intelligence.

The notion of Singularity—that AI will supercede humans with its exponential growth, and that everything we have done until now and are currently doing is insignificant—is a religion created by people who have the experience of using computation to solve problems heretofore considered impossibly complex for machines. They have found a perfect partner in digital computation—a knowable, controllable, system of thinking and creating that is rapidly increasing in its ability to harness and process complexity, bestowing wealth and power on those who have mastered it. In Silicon Valley, the combination of groupthink and the financial success of this cult of technology has created a positive feedback system that has very little capacity for regulating through negative feedback. While they would resist having their beliefs compared to a religion and would argue that their ideas are science- and evidence-based, those who embrace Singularity engage in quite a bit of arm waving and make leaps of faith based more on trajectories than ground-truths to achieve their ultimate vision.

Source: Resisting Reduction: A Manifesto

Silicon Valley Is Not Your Friend – NYTimes

In his epic anti-A.I. work from the mid-1970s, “Computer Power and Human Reason,” Mr. Weizenbaum described the scene at computer labs. “Bright young men of disheveled appearance, often with sunken glowing eyes, can be seen sitting at computer consoles, their arms tensed and waiting to fire their fingers, already poised to strike, at the buttons and keys on which their attention seems to be as riveted as a gambler’s on the rolling dice,” he wrote. “They exist, at least when so engaged, only through and for the computers. These are computer bums, compulsive programmers.”

He was concerned about them as young students lacking perspective about life and was worried that these troubled souls could be our new leaders. Neither Mr. Weizenbaum nor Mr. McCarthy mentioned, though it was hard to miss, that this ascendant generation were nearly all white men with a strong preference for people just like themselves. In a word, they were incorrigible, accustomed to total control of what appeared on their screens. “No playwright, no stage director, no emperor, however powerful,” Mr. Weizenbaum wrote, “has ever exercised such absolute authority to arrange a stage or a field of battle and to command such unswervingly dutiful actors or troops.”

Welcome to Silicon Valley, 2017.

Source: Silicon Valley Is Not Your Friend

Why we desperately need women to design AI

“If we don’t get women and people of color at the table — real technologists doing the real work — we will bias systems. Trying to reverse that a decade or two from now will be so much more difficult, if not close to impossible. This is the time to get women and diverse voices in so that we build it properly, right? And it can be great. It’s going to be ubiquitous. It’s going to be awesome. But we have to have people at the table.” — Fei-Fei Li

Source: Why we desperately need women to design AI – freeCodeCamp

Elon Musk urges the UN to limit AI weapons

Elon Musk has signed his name alongside more than 100 others to ask the UN to regulate the use of autonomous weapons systems. The group of concerned engineers, many of whom are respected in the field of AI, is asking the global body to “protect civilians” from “misuse” of AI-driven weapons. They believe that smart, self-guided kill bots would become the tool of choice for despots and tyrants.

Source: Elon Musk urges the UN to limit AI weapons

What Algorithms Want – Reflecting on (Human) Agency in an Age of Automation / @mitpress

‘How much should we let algorithms shape our lives?’ is the question at the heart of Ed Finn’s recent book “What Algorithms Want: Imagination in the Age of Computing”. Scanning Silicon Valley, computer science, and the cultural sphere alike it offers a smart and accessible reading of our current moment.

Source: What Algorithms Want – Reflecting on (Human) Agency in an Age of Automation / @mitpress