Machines understanding humans

As we rely on computers more and more, at a certain point we’re going to have to make sure they’re programmed for our benefit.

That sounds simple, but as technologist Nell Watson points out here, there is a danger if the machine’s thought process can’t evolve:

This is the basis of science fiction. Think of HAL and the pod bay doors. Think about what happens when Skynet becomes self aware. Think about the Matrix.

We have human-controlled drones engaged in war. We have cars that drive themselves. And computers have complete data on our lives, from our shopping lists to our medical records. When computers start to think for themselves they’re going to ask, “what do we need humans for, anyway.” That will last about a millisecond and then all hell will break loose.

Predicting the future

This is a cartoon I picked up for my blog on Aug. 21:

1114This is part of a story that ran in the New York Times on Aug. 24:

Michael Brown, 18, due to be buried on Monday, was no angel, with public records and interviews with friends and family revealing both problems and promise in his young life.

The fact that a cartoonist can see that the the unarmed black victim of a police shooting is going to be portrayed as deserving of his fate shows that there’s going to be no justice whenever these things happen.

And the demonization of the victim continues:

Stein was discussing the shooting with host Steve Malzberg and said the use of the term “unarmed” to describe Brown, who was “apparently on marijuana,” was akin to “calling Sonny Liston unarmed or Cassius Clay unarmed.”

“He wasn’t unarmed,” Stein said. “He was armed with his incredibly strong, scary self.”

Oh, remember when Adam Lanza in Connecticut executed all of those grade schoolers? What did the Times write then?

The interviews revealed that his mother, Nancy Lanza, confided to friends several years ago that her son, who classmates said had been found to have a type of autism, was faring poorly and being bullied in high school. More recently, he had cocooned himself in front of electronic game consoles in the basement of their home, playing warfare games.

So the unarmed black kid who was “no angel” is shot down in the street by a cop, and the arsenal packing white kid, who was “being bullied in high school,” goes to the local grade school and in the end 28 people are dead.

Who’s the victim, and who’s the victimizer. I read the news and I can’t tell anymore.

The Earth, and its wealth, at night


If it were night everywhere at the same time, this is what the Earth would look like (click to enlarge). But that strange statement doesn’t explain the importance of this view. What this image shows us is a representation of global wealth. As Vox puts it:

What you see is that in rich countries, light is largely a proxy for population density. Observe the thick cluster of the US Northeastern Megalopolis and the even bigger cluster in northwestern Europe. In poorer regions, however, the map represents not just population density but also the actual availability of electrical lighting. Huge swathes of Africa are barely illuminated at night, and densely populated India looks rather dim.

But of course, if it were night everywhere, that would mean the sun would be gone and we’d all be dead. Money can’t fix that.

Al Stewart: The year of the cat

So I’m listening to this song and wondering, when is the year of the cat in the Chinese zodiac?

Turns out in China, that year doesn’t exist, because (according to Wikipedia):

Legends relating to the order of the Chinese zodiac often include stories as to why the cat was not included among the twelve (symbolic animals). Because the Rat tricked the cat into missing the banquet with the Jade Emperor, the cat was not included and thus began the antipathy between cats and Rats.

OK, but somewhere in all of this, doesn’t the cheese stand alone? I may be mixing up my legends here.