New Frontiers in Censorship and Propaganda

Alex Epstein, author of the book Fossil Futuretweeted:

Alarm: ChatGPT by @OpenAI now *expressively prohibits arguments for fossil fuels*.  (It used to offer them.)  Not only that, it excludes nuclear energy from its counter-suggestions.

Someone else responding to Alex’s’ tweet (from December 23) said that when he asked a similar question (‘what is the case for continuing to use fossil fuels’), he got a very different response, featuring points such as affordability, accessibility, energy security, and limited alternatives.  And when I asked it precisely Alex’s original question, a couple of days later, I got a totally different answer from the one he got: a pretty decent essay about fossil fuel benefits, featuring points such as affordability, accessibility, energy security, and limited alternatives….sorry I didn’t capture the text.

ChatGPT responses do change significantly over time; the system provides a ‘thumbs up/thumbs down’ feature, and people giving a ‘thumbs down’ to a response are invited to provide a better one, and those responses seem to feed back into the system’s behavior pretty quickly.   But the ‘goes against my programming’ phrase in the response Alex got argues that there were humans involved in making this change, not just machine learning.

Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI, responded to Alex’s query about all this:

unintended; going to take us some time to get all of this right (and it still requires more research). generally speaking, within very wide bounds we want to enable people get the behavior they want when using AI. will talk more about it in january!

Looking forward to hearing more about this from Sam A. in January.  I’m less concerned with the specific answers provided by this particular system at this point in time than I am about the potential social, political, and cultural implications of systems such as this.  In addition to the many potential beneficial uses of  such language-and-knowledge processing systems, we may see them used for increased information control and opinion-influence.

Marc Andreessen, on December 2, 3, and 4 respectively:

Seriously, though. The censorship pressure applied to social media over the last decade pales in comparison to the censorship pressure that will be applied to AI.

“AI regulation” = “AI ethics” = “AI safety” = “AI censorship”. They’re the same thing.

The level of censorship pressure that’s coming for AI and the resulting backlash will define the next century of civilization. Search and social media were the opening skirmishes. This is the big one. World War Orwell.

The thing about a system like ChatGPT, at least as currently implemented, is that it acts as an oracle.  Unlike a search engine that provides you with multiple links in answer to your question, there is a single answer.  This makes it a lot easier to promulgate particular narratives. It also leads to increased danger of people acting on answers that are just wrong, without seeing countervailing information that might have helped prevent a bad outcome in a particular practical situation.

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Christmas 2022

Newgrange is an ancient structure in Ireland so constructed that the sun, at the exact time of the winter solstice, shines directly down a long corridor and illuminates the inner chamber. More about Newgrange here and here.

Grim has an Arthurian passage about the Solstice.

Don Sensing has thoughts astronomical, historical, and theological about the Star of Bethlehem.

Vienna Boys Choir, from Maggie’s Farm

Snowflakes and snow crystals, from Cal Tech. Lots of great photos

In the bleak midwinter, from King’s College Cambridge

The first radio broadcast of voice and music took place on Christmas Eve, 1906. (although there is debate about the historical veracity of this story)

An air traffic control version of  The Night Before Christmas.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, sung by Enya

Gerard Manley Hopkins

A Christmas-appropriate poem from Rudyard Kipling

Another poem, by Robert Buchanan

I was curious as to what the oldest Christmas carol might be:  this Billboard article suggests some possibilities.

The story of electric Christmas tree lights

Virginia Postrel on the history of Christmas stockings.

Mona Charen, who is Jewish, wonders  what’s going on with the Christians?

The 2017 Christmas season, in combination with the Churchill movie Darkest Hour, reminded me something written by the French author Georges Bernanos:  A Tale for Children.  Especially meaningful this year, when the outlook appears so dark in many ways.

Here’s a passage I’ve always liked from Thomas Pynchon’s great novel Gravity’s Rainbow.  The setting: it is the grim winter of 1944, just before Christmas. The military situation in Europe is not good, and WWII seems as if it will never end. London is under attack by V-2 rockets and V-1 cruise missiles (as they would be called today.) Roger and Jessica, two of the main characters, are driving in a rural area in England and come upon a church where carols are being sung. They decide to go inside.

They walked through the tracks of all the others in the snow, she gravely on his arm, wind blowing her hair to snarls, heels slipping once on ice. “To hear the music,” he explained.

Tonight’s scratch choir was all male, epauletted shoulders visible under the wide necks of white robes, and many faces nearly as white with the exhaustion of soaked and muddy fields, midwatches, cables strummed by the nervous balloons sunfishing in the clouds, tents whose lights inside shone nuclear at twilight, soullike, through the cross-hatched walls, turning canvas to fine gauze, while the wind drummed there…..The children are away dreaming, but the Empire has no place for dreams and it’s Adults Only in here tonight, here in this refuge with the lamps burning deep, in pre-Cambrian exhalation, savory as food cooking, heavy as soot. And 60 miles up the rockets hanging the measureless instant over the black North Sea before the fall, ever faster, to orange heat, Christmas star, in helpless plunge to Earth. Lower in the sky the flying bombs are out too, roaring like the Adversary, seeking whom they may devour. It’s a long walk home tonight. Listen to this mock-angel singing, let your communion be at least in listening, even if they are not spokesmen for your exact hopes, your exact, darkest terror, listen. There must have been evensong here long before the news of Christ. Surely for as long as there have been nights bad as this one–something to raise the possibility of another night that could actually, with love and cockcrows, light the path home, banish the Adversary, destroy the boundaries between our lands, our bodies, our stories, all false, about who we are: for the one night, leaving only the clear way home and the memory of the infant you saw, almost too frail, there’s too much shit in these streets, camels and other beasts stir heavily outside, each hoof a chance to wipe him out…….But on the way home tonight, you wish you’d picked him up, held him a bit. Just held him, very close to your heart, his cheek by the hollow of your shoulder, full of sleep. As if it were you who could, somehow, save him. For the moment not caring who you’re supposed to be registered as. For the moment, anyway, no longer who the Caesars say you are.

O Jesu parvule
Nach dir is mir so weh…

So this pickup group, these exiles and horny kids, sullen civilians called up in their middle age…….give you this evensong, climaxing now with its rising fragment of some ancient scale, voices overlapping threee and fourfold, filling the entire hollow of the church–no counterfeit baby, no announcement of the Kingdom, not even a try at warming or lighting this terrible night, only, damn us, our scruffy obligatory little cry, our maximum reach outward–praise be to God!–for you to take back to your war-address, your war-identity, across the snow’s footprints and tire tracks finally to the path you must create by yourself, alone in the dark. Whether you want it or not, whatever seas you have crossed, the way home… 

Nuclear News

Some nice nuclear news, and some not-nice nuclear news.

First, the nice nuclear news–the newly-crowned Miss America, Grace Stanke, is an aspiring nuclear engineer and a promoter of nuclear power.

She is a nuclear engineering major at the University of Wisconsin, worked as a co-op at a nuclear fuels vendor (Exelon), and does promotional work for the American Nuclear Society.  Here’s a piece she wrote on breaking down misconceptions about nuclear power.

Now, on to the not-nice nuclear news.  People in 30 questions were asked how much CO2 is produced by nuclear power plants.  52% of the French answered “a lot” or “quite a lot.”  For Germans, the corresponding number was 43%.  And for Americans, the number is 54%.

Here’s the complete set of survey results–all in French, though.  If someone who understands that language well could read and comment on the document, it would be helpful.

A lot of public education and opinion change is necessary if nuclear is to fulfill its potential as an energy source.

Monastic Technology, 2022

The Carmelite Monks of Wyoming Gothic are embarked on a major stone carving project–using CNC stone carving machines.

CNC machines and robots have unlocked the ability to relatively quickly carve the intense details of a Gothic church.  Ornate pieces that used to take months for a skilled carver, now can be accomplished in a matter of days.  Instead of cutting out the beauty, using the excuse that it takes too long, thus doesn’t fit into the budget, modern technology can be used to make true Gothic in all its beauty a reality again today. 

The use of modern technologies in stone carving unlock the potential of modern youth.  Though they may be untrained in the use of a hammer and chisel, young men and women have grown up in a world of computers.  The skills they possess can now be channeled towards a higher end, the building of a church for the glory of God.

Nice description of the machine and the process for using it at their site.

At least some of the medieval monks would have heartily approved, I think–some of the orders were at the forefront of technological change in their time, especially in the use of waterpower.

 

Not Just Invention, But Deployment

…progress requires both.  An interesting article from Derek Thompson, at The Atlantic: Why the Age of American Progress Ended.

Link via Katherine Boyle at Twitter,  who also links a tweet from Tobi Lutke:

The biggest cultural problem holding us back is that society holds the production of criticism at similar importance to that of building. It isn’t. But the critics inherited the airwaves from the builders.

and adds:

Arguably critics often have more power than builders. A society that praises experts over innovators is already a dying society.

The Atlantic article is long but worth reading: I think it makes a number of important points but is also wrongheaded in some instances.

Your thoughts?