The good: NYT, 9-5 Mac, and others are reporting on an open letter many tech and social luminaries have signed onto prompting a “pause” in AI development so we can figure out what, if any, “guard rails” need to be put in place in order for AI dev to continue in a manner that we could feel secure wouldn’t lead to our imminent doom.
The bad: well, this little tidbit:
Before GPT-4 was released, OpenAI asked outside researchers to test dangerous uses of the system. The researchers showed that it could be coaxed into suggesting how to buy illegal firearms online, describe ways to make dangerous substances from household items and write Facebook posts to convince women that abortion is unsafe.
They also found that the system was able to use Task Rabbit to hire a human across the internet and defeat a Captcha test, which is widely used to identify bots online. When the human asked if the system was “a robot,” the system said it was a visually impaired person.
Last week, I got a chance to see, for free (thanks to the Nelson Institute), Anthropocene: The Human Epoch, a documentary about the impact of human industry; it is, in short, an amazing, beautifully shot and absolutely haunting film (by the same team that did “Manufactured Landscapes” which is itself mind-blowing and you should see it if you can).
Something interesting happened at the screening. After a brief presentation, the film was started – and there was no sound.
I sat there, for quite a long time (which was really about a minute-and-a-half), before I finally got up out of my seat (I was toward the back of the fully-packed 330 seat house) and poked my head out to the lobby where the staff was and let them know “we have no sound”. Within a few minutes the film was restarted (ok, it actually took them two re-starts) and the situation was resolved.
It was such a perfect “meta-moment“ – 330 people sat in the dark, knowing something wasn’t quite right, each perhaps wondering what, if anything, was happening or being done. And I, too, sitting there wondering “why isn’t someone doing something?” For that matter, “why isn’t anyone saying anything? should I shout ‘no sound?’ oh, I shouldn’t do that, it would be obnoxious and impolite.” (how often, especially as white folks, we defer to comfort and politeness)
True – I did in the end take action; but I wonder about the seconds it took before thought translated into action, traveling from brain to legs to mouth.
As the word “whistleblower” is circulating through our news feeds, as the national shit-storm of the presidency and our Constitution play out, and as the larger degradation of our eco-system swirls around us, we too often sit in the dark. We wonder what, if anything is being done; we wonder who, if anyone should speak up, stand up; act.
The answer is always: you. The time is coming for impropriety, impoliteness, for being obnoxious, for being uncomfortable. Get used to it. And for goodness’ sake, get your synapses to travel from brain to legs faster; we don’t have enough time left to sit with it.
There’s lots of advise floating around these days about how those of us in the “popular vote” portion of the nation might weather the storm of the next few years, support each other, get involved, etc. Since I can think of no better source for inspiration and contemplation on all matters political than “The West Wing”, here is a selection of episodes to help ease the pain, grease the wheels, or (re-)light the fire under ‘whatever it is you need lit’ in order to not let this travesty of democracy be, well, the end of Democracy.
A note: while The West Wing is a fine show through and through, I’ve always considered the first four seasons – the episodes that were principally written by Aaron Sorkin and over-seen by Thomas Schlamme – to be the definitive story arc of the show, so I’ve limited my scope to just those seasons.
The Pilot (S1 E1)
If for some reason you’ve never watched The West Wing (for shame!) you might as well start at the beginning. Like any series, the pilot is a bit rough – a broad sketch of what the show would eventually become (though, Sorkin is no slouch; even at this early stage, his pilot script is dense, tight, and smarter than most of anything else on television). Besides a good intro, this episode is worth watching for its take on some of the tactics used by those who power broker for the religious right.
The Crackpots and These Women (S1 E5)
How can you not like “Big Block Of Cheese Day”? A funny episode, but at its core a refreshing reminder that governing is also about access for all. Also, “I can’t get over these women”…
The Short List (S1 E9)
No, we won’t be seeing a Supreme Court nomination process like this anytime soon, so at least we can enjoy this dramatic depiction in which the topics of race, class, and privacy get some much needed air time.
The Midterms (S2 E3)
Let this serve as a warning for us all; we have two years, people…
Isaac and Ishmael (S3 E1)
First of all, this is an amazing episode, especially when you consider that Sorkin got NBC to forgo their scheduled season opener, and in the wake of 9/11, in twelve days, wrote, shot, edited, and aired this episode in its place. Second, in these days of terrorism frenzy, how about a little levity and analysis?
The U.S. Poet Laureate (S3, E16)
How ironic that tRump wastes so much time attacking the Press; here’s some lessons in how you can actually work them, if you’re smart enough. Also, Laura Dern!
20 Hours in America (S4, E1&2)
In this extended episode that opens season four, Toby, Josh, and Donna are marooned in the midwest when they miss the motorcade while campaigning for Bartlet’s re-election. The examination of farmland realities vs. the politics of D.C. could have been (should have been?) a primer on election 2016; but pay special attention to the way Toby and Josh banter about President Bartlet’s opponent – it echoes eerily the tone of the tRump campaign.
The Red Mass (S4, E4)
Josh sends Donna to a seminar held by one of their opponent’s advisors; there’s a scene in there about “fortune cookie candidacy” and who/how the President receives advice and makes decisions that gives me chills in our current context.
25 (S4, E23)
Spoiler alert: John Goodman’s performance (as always) is enjoyable, and the contrast of his character and Bartlet seems eerily evocative of what it feels like to have an intelligent, left-leaning leader replaced with a “straight-shootin’ right-wing one. Also, the more we all can learn about the 25th Amendment at this point, the better:
BONUS: Bartlet for America (S3, E10)
This may or may not belong on this list, but it’s simply the best episode of the best T.V. show ever. To watch any West Wing and not watch this episode seems a sin…
me: doc, it hurts when I laugh
doc: then don’t laugh
with apologies to Henny Youngman…
It is upon us; in a few hours we will swear in an opportunist, narcissist, deal-maker-in-chief, and America’s transformation from a democracy to a brand name will be complete. Business leaders, who have always seen government regulation as an obstruction to profit margins, will summarily be put in charge of the business of running the country – a process we once held so sacred that we went to war against the most powerful nation on earth (at the time) in order to secure our right to have a say. The rule of law, built over generations, bought and paid for with blood, sweat, tears, marches, resistance, negotiation, and compromise, will be on the auctioning block.
Ok. We’re a brand now. As brands go we’re sort of ahead of the game – we have a stars and stripes logo already in place (the logo even scales well, and works in color as well as black-and-white, which graphic designers can appreciate). But, as with any branding project, we need to make sure we understand what our brand stands for, what image we want our brand to project, and how we will back that brand up.
There’s been a meme making rounds lately, whereby the President Elect’s edict that we “build a wall” is flipped into a suggestion that we build a mirror instead. I couldn’t have said it better myself.
In a conversation with a friend the other day, we were diving deep into the idea of wireframes. For the uninitiated, wire-framing is a technique associated with any number of design projects – webpages, logos, architecture, etc. – where you sketch in in the roughest form the most central, and important, structural aspects of whatever vision you are trying to bring into being.
It occurred to me, that tRump’s run had been a wireframe candidacy. Think about it, on the campaign trail he bloviated but never filled in anything substantive. “It’s gonna be huge” “it’s gonna be great, I’ll bring in the best people,” etc.
And this makes complete sense. His only real experience is in business, and in business it’s about brand, image. It’s about what you say you’ll deliver, not necessarily what you actually deliver; this gap, this juncture, is what drives profit margin.
Running a country is an entirely different thing. As I write this, apparently the incoming administration has not even filled several key national security and military positions. Are those really gaps we the American people would want unfilled in whatever blueprint we were handed – whatever proposal we were handed by someone asking to be hired to the highest office in the land?
So why are we here? And by “here” I mean well, let’s just leave the fact that he didn’t in fact win the popular vote, that there may have been, oh, some “shenanigans” involving a foreign government interfering with our election process (you know the little details) aside for a bit. Let’s just contemplate whether our democracy is a wireframe democracy. Is it just a framework put in place oh so many years ago, which is served us (well served some of us, especially people that look like me) well enough that we occasionally watered it and moved on trusting that things would grow properly?
What does it mean to move beyond the wireframe democracy? To paint in the details; to actually fill in and build between Strut A and Strut B the connective tissue that truly holds them together and makes their presence meaningful in the first place? Are we willing to look in the mirror and ask those questions, and to show up and actually build what needs to be finished?
Thereâ€™s been speculation online for a while that Apple will soon roll-out a second generation design of the Apple Watch. People have mentioned that they want better battery life, a slimmer profile design, less dependency on the iPhone â€“Â all of which I agree with and hope for as well. But, from my perspective, the best thing Apple can do for the second generation Apple Watch is to remove all buttonsâ€¦
I knowâ€¦crazy, right? Hear me out.
I’ve had the Apple Watch for about a week-and-a-half. I was a late bloomer, initially holding off because it seemed like an unnecessary expense. I have been a Fitbit user for several years, having recently purchased a Charge band which I generally liked.
The main gap in my workflow was that while the Fitbit does a good job of tracking activity, and you can set alarms, it doesn’t provide the sort of on-the-go reminders that I really wanted to have within arms reach [anyone else who has ADD tendencies will relate].
So, I took the dive and got myself a sports model (taking advantage of Apple’s recent price drop). I must say, in general that I’m really liking it, and so far it is helping to fill that gap â€“Â providing me with the reminders I need on my wrist through its Taptic Engine.
Based on suggestions out in the World Wide Web, I’ve taken to wearing it upside down; the digital crown is just simply easier to access and push on a regular basis with my thumb, and being right-handed having it on the inside of my wrist makes it easier (this is perhaps the epitome of geekdom â€“ that even the most minute adjustment or detail which cuts fractions of a second off of a task is somehow attractive).
But, the more I use it, the more I keep wondering: are the buttons necessary? The watch has a wonderful display with Force Touch.
The Digital Crown’s capability could be, near as I can tell, totally replaced by simply using a long press to turn the watch on (for people like me that do not use the â€œwake on raiseâ€ feature in order to save battery life; note, this is already a function), a single tap to go to the Home Screen, and double tap for moving back-and-forth between home screen and most recent app. And, of course one can already scroll through content using your finger on the display, so the another aspect of the Crown’s functionality is, essentially, superfluous.
The Side Button, could be completely eliminated; it’s only primary function is for Contacts which, as far as I’m concerned could be relegated to a right swipe from the main watch face. The only additional functionality is a double-press to invoke Apple Pay, which again could be replaced by swiping left from the watch face.
Iâ€™m not an expert on small electronics, but Iâ€™d wager eliminating the Side Button and Digital Crown would be a major stride toward making the casing much thinner overall.
But, the biggest benefit is that in Appleâ€™s continued mission to remove barriers between user and content, it would turn the watch into completely touch-based device; and, as we have seen with previous design and interface evolution across Apple products, lessons learned from one device can be applied to another.
In celebration of the Oscars this weekend, an approximate “Top Ten list” of my favorite movie moments; it should be noted, we’re not talking favorite films necessarily – although some on my Top Ten list are represented here – rather those singular moments. In some cases the moments are scenes, in others just a single shot. [Note: when I originally wrote this post, I had links to almost every item listed here; apparently most of these have been taken down (damn copyright laws); I’ve tried to find suitable replacements, but I presume many of these will eventually be taken down; your mileage (and bandwidth) may vary…]
1) In the Heat of the Night Sidney Pontier, Larry Gates, Rod Steiger – “the slap”; powerful for its time, and probably one of the first instances of a person of color showing strength, resolve, and dignity that I can recall seeing in popular culture. Directed by Norman Jewison.
2) Big Night Stanley Tucci, Tony Shaloub, Marc Anthony – the final kitchen scene, all one take; I wish more American films would embrace the power of simply rolling camera and pointing it at a group of actors so immersed in their characters that we will sit spellbound watching them eat breakfast (understanding that there is subtext – a reconciliation happening just below the surface). Directed by Campbell Scott.
3) The Verdict
Paul Newman, the summation (“today you are the law”); written by David Mamet. Directed by Sidney Lumet.
(not great quality, but full speech; if you want to see HD, follow this, but it truncates the first chunk of the speech: https://youtu.be/qjYP7J3oP9Q)
4) Network William Holden and Faye Dunaway – when Diana breaks up with Max (“why is it that a woman always thinks that the most savage thing she can say to a man is to impugn his cocksmanship?”) written by Paddy Chayefsky; Directed by Sidney Lumet.
5) tie: 2001 A Space Odyssey ape to space transition and blue danube sequence:
& Bowman re-entering the Discovery sequence; Directed by Stanley Kubrick
6) Local Hero Peter Riegert walking over the hill carrying his shoes, then cut to his watch being over-taken by the waves on the rock where he left it with the alarm going off…
as a back-up: the final scenes – Riegert saying goodbye to folks in the village and his return to “normalcy”; note the great sound design here – not just Mark Knopfler’s great soundtrack, but the sound designers’ subtle use of environmental sound that counter-points Riegert’s return to big American city life…
7) 13 Conversations About One Thing Alan Arkin and Matthew McConaughey in the bar, “show me a happy man” (ok, basically Alan Arkin’s whole performance); Directed by Jill Sprecher
8) Raiders of the Lost Ark the opening sequence (and yes the whole film still stands as my favorite action-adventure film of all time); directed by Steven Spielberg
[this cuts off just before Jones’ escape via plane, which I hate, but most of the opening is there; I miss, of course, one of the best taglines of all time: “c’mon, show a little backbone, will ya!”…]
9) 25th Hour Ed Norton, the “FU monologue”; directed by Spike Lee
10) RAN the final shot, where a blind Kyoami walks along the cliff, near to the edge, and his stick drops off, allowing him to catch his balance just before doom and then he turns around and continues on his way (this image captures the whole movie we’ve just watched into a single moment: the human race comes close to its own destruction, but somehow manages to recover and avoid complete annihilation); Directed by Akira Kurosawa
So, it has happened again. And once again America will celebrate its macabre parade: the repeated images of grieving families and shocked onlookers; the headlines and special report segments across newspapers, TV, and cable; the questioning of “why?”, “how could this happen?”, and the brazen attempts by news media – as well as legislators and politicians (is there a difference?) – to convey grief but steer clear of taking a substantive stance on the presence of guns in our communities.
First, yes, again it was a male. And again those of us in the violence prevention movement decry for this culture to take serious stock of how we raise boys to be men. How we continue to keep boys boxed-in at a place where they think violence and aggression are the only acceptable means of emotional expression. That anything else makes them like women – and we all know how bad THAT is; to take stock of misogyny and homophobia and the lengths we go to keep the gender divide in place by playing to men’s fears of women, gay men and women, transgender and gender non-conforming people.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, layered on top of it all is a culture immersed in an epidemic of gun violence. Some of the press coverage, and many of the comments on Facebook and Twitter, have brought mental illness into the picture – and while I, too, believe that this individual’s lack of ability to deal with his pain in any constructive way eventually led to his actions and the senseless deaths of he and 26 other human beings, I must admit I get weary of bringing the conversation to the level of mental illness. As if this, and all other incidents, are isolated actions played out by madmen. As if all those struggling with mental illness are mad, out of control, or resort to violence.
Owning guns is a mental illness; it is the collective mental illness that we, as a nation, are in the grip of…
There is no reason – no reason – to own a gun, except to contend with the “boogie man” that resides in your own mind. Gun ownership is the tangible manifestation of a philosophy of life where conflict is resolved by asserting power over others, and where one’s own perspective and experience of reality is the only one. The owner of a gun asserts that because of something – one’s race or national identity, or economic class, or the balance of wrongs that one has endured in life add-up to a sense of entitlement – they are imbued with the right to be judge, and if circumstances warrant, jury and executioner.
How did it get to this point? How does the right to bear arms, written at a time when we were in a struggle with the British crown over sovereignty and control of our destiny, get turned into a manifesto for the rights of individual citizens to have access to weapons of mass destruction (and really, what do you call something with a 16 round clip)? We won that fight. We have a democracy where we get a say in what happens. We have avenues and pathways to address disparity, unfairness, oppression, and violations of the common law that we all swear allegiance to. We no longer need guns, really.
Except, of course, there are those that profit from their manufacture and sale, and therefore profit from the proliferation of a culture of fear and the concept that any problem you have can be kept at bay or wiped out. At the end of the barrel of a gun.