Subsidization, Regulation, and AI

A bipartisan working group led by Charles Schumer has introduced what this article calls a “long-awaited AI roadmap.”  The document calls for at least $32 billion to be allocated for nondefense AI innovation.

Bill Gurley,  a venture capitalist of long standing, says:  In the entire history of the VC industry has there ever been a category LESS in need of incremental $$$$$.

Indeed. Corporations and individuals with money to invest are falling all over themselves to invest in things AI-related.  Meanwhile, there are all kinds of serious issues–the hardening of the electrical grid against both enemy-caused EMP and natural magnetic storms, for example–that are not being adequately funded by the private sector and could benefit from some of that $32 billion.  But they’re not as trendy at the moment.

Today’s WSJ includes an op-ed by Martin Casado and Katherine Boyle, both of Andreessen-Horowitz.  They write about the Department of Homeland Security’s formation of an AI Safety and Security Board, whose purpose is to advise the department, the private sector and the public on “safe and secure development and deployment of AI in our nation’s critical infrastructure,”  and they note that:

Of the 22 members on the board, none represent startups, or what we call “little tech.” Only two are private companies, and the smallest organization on the board hovers around $1 billion in value. The AI companies selected for the board either are among the world’s largest companies or have received significant funding from those companies, and all are public advocates for stronger regulations on AI models.

Much of the discussion of AI risks reminds me of the parable of Baptists and Bootleggers.  And when regulation becomes a dominant competitive factor in an industry, it becomes very difficult for new players to survive and thrive unless they are exceptionally well politically-connected.

Your thoughts?

Worthwhile Reading

Academia Versus Civilization, at Quillette

A talk by Jensen Huang, founder & CEO of NVDIA, at Stanford.  Very, very good.  Related post and discussion.

Ruxandra Teslo notes that student protestors in the 1960s wanted less bureaucracy and more freedom…today, most of them seem to want less freedom and more bureaucracy.

It’s not the phones, says Marc Andreessen, referring to the psychological dysfunction that seems to afflict so many of today’s young people.  He’s responding to a post by Jash Dholani, who says “the young aren’t driving, f******, and drinking because high energy activity is fundamentally incompatible with modern ethics. If you’re always told to be harmless (but also guilty!) then your innate will to power withers. You vegetate. Man, the greatest animal, turned to plant.”

Elon Musk says:

Many movies exist about a lone inventor in a garage having a eureka moment, but almost none about manufacturing, so it’s underappreciated by the public. Compared to the insane pain of reaching high-volume, positive-margin production, prototypes are a piece of cake.

(Not many such movies,  but one that comes to mind is Valley of Decision, a 1945 film centered around family-owned steel mill in Pittsburgh.  I reviewed the movie, and the book on which it is based, here.  Also, there’s Executive Suite, a film from 1954 which involves executive succession at a furniture manufacturer…mentioned in a batch of reviews that I posted here)

In a comment at an earlier version of this post at Ricochet, Gary McVey noted that

“the eastern Europeans (in other words, the Communists, if not always the Soviets) were pretty good about trying to publicize the drama of start-up, the challenges of production. When we mock those days for films “about a couple falling in love at the tractor factory”, we are mocking something that, if you actually see the films, is in fact objectively a good thing. Some of them, by the Poles, Hungarians, and Czechs, were good. The best of them had little or nothing to do with Marxist theories, just the everyday achievements of construction, engineering, and metalwork that sated Western audiences found dull as dishwater.

A tractor factory’s a good thing to have, if you care to eat. There was nothing contemptible about making movies about it.”

Ashwin Varma argues that the usual narrative about WWII industrial production is defective, in that it does not give sufficient credit to the role of government.

The Department of Education embarked on a project to modernize and simplify the process for applying for student aid.  It is not going well.

The Biden administration is supporting the reopening of a nuclear plant in Michigan.  As Stephen Green says, it’s the right thing to do, but the Democrats doing it reeks of desperation.

gCaptain is a good source on the Baltimore bridge disaster and on all matters nautical.

In my post Visit to a Noteworthy Robot, I described a trip to a store equipped with Amazon’s no-check-out system.  Now, Amazon has decided to drop this system in most of the stores in which it is being used…problem is that too much human intervention (1000 people in India reviewing images that the AI can’t reliably interpret) to be cost-effective.

Cultural Theory of Mind and the consequences of not having it, especially the foreign-policy consequences.

Interesting chart: the ratio of commodity prices to the S&P 500.

An argument that the theft of national sovereignty at the Euro level was orchestrated entirely by legal elites – not political, much less economic, ones.

What kind of people tend to block (what they think are) sources of misinformation?

GE’s energy business has now been spun off as a separate corporation, GE Vernova.  They seem to be pretty well-positioned in nuclear; it will be interesting to see how much emphasis they put on this sector vis-a-vis their gas and wind businesses.

Speaking of nuclear, here’s a chart on the temperature ranges required for various industrial processes versus the temperature ranges available from various types of reactors.

Book Review: Theft of Fire, by Devon Eriksen

Marcus Warnoc operates a spacegoing freighter, assembled by his father and himself out of whatever parts they can afford. He is surviving financially only by the skin of his teeth, and has out of desperation engaged in some operations of questionable (or worse) legality.  He finds that his ship has been taken over by a young woman named Miranda Foxglove…who knows what he did, and her price for not telling will be: to take her where she wants to go.

And where she wants to go is a planet called Sedna, in the outer reaches of our solar system. No one ever goes there–for very good reason.

Miranda has also brought along an artificial intelligence–its name is ‘Lily’, rather, that was the name of the 12-year-old girl whose brain Miranda imaged into the AI system.  Given that the real Lily is back home with her family, the AI entity is dubbed ‘Leela’.   But it, or she–this AI appears to be conscious–still has all the memories and emotions of the 12-year-old from whose mind her mind was copied.  Leela is not happy about her current disembodied state, despite her silicon-enabled ability for every fast thought and her ability to shift her vision to cameras anywhere throughout the ship, and while she is basically a happy and positive-thinking entity (person?), she does feel a certain resentment toward her creator.

A well-written and thought-provoking book, which is surprisingly emotionally affecting.  The author is a frequent poster at X/Twitter, and is especially good at the art of the denunciation.

Movie Review: WarGames

I want somebody on the phone before I kill 20 million people.

This 1983 movie is about a potential nuclear war instigated by runaway information technology–a military system inadvertently triggered by a teenage hacker.  I thought it might be interesting to re-watch in the light of today’s concerns about artificial intelligence and the revived fears of nuclear war.

The film opens in an underground launch control center, where a new crew is just coming on duty…and as just as they are getting themselves settled, they receive a Launch message.  They quickly open the envelope which contains the authentication code…and the message is verified as a valid launch order, originating from proper authority.

To launch, both officers must turn their keys simultaneously. But one balks: unwilling to commit the ultimate violence based solely on a coded message, he wants to talk to a human being who can tell him what’s going on.  But no one outside the underground capsule can be reached by either landline or radio.

But there is no war: it was a drill–an assessment of personnel reliability. The results indicated that about 20% of the missile crews refused  to launch.  A proposal is made: take the men out of the loop–implement technology to provide direct launch of the missiles from headquarters, put the control at the highest level, where it belongs.  Against the advice of the relevant general, the proposal is taken to the President, and the missile crews are replaced by remote-control technology. There will be no more launches cancelled by the qualms of missile officers.

At this point, we meet the Matthew Broderick character, David Lightman.  He is a highly intelligent but not very responsible high school student, whose his first scene involves smarting off in class and getting in trouble. David is an early hacker, with an Imsai computer: he rescues his grades by logging on to the school’s computer system and changing them.  (He does the same for his not-quite-yet girlfriend, Jennifer, played by Ally Sheedy)

Searching for a pre-release bootleg copy of a computer game he wants to play, David happens on what looks like a game site: it has menu items for checkers, chess, tic-tac-toe, and something called Falken’s Maze.  Also, a game called Global Thermonuclear War.

To play that last game, David needs to know the password, and thinks he may be able to guess it if he can learn some personal data about the game’s creator, a researcher named Steven Falken.  Library research shows Falken as a man who appeals to David very much, not only because of his scholarly attainments but also his obvious deep love of his wife and child–both of whom are reported to have been killed in an auto accident.  Research also shows that Falken himself has also died.

Using a very simple clue (the name of Falken’s son), David is able to gain entry to the system, to select which side he wants to play (the Soviet Union), and to start the game.  He launches what he thinks is a simulated attack on the United States…a very large-scale attack. He has no idea that the events of the simulation are somehow bleeding over into the live warning system, and appear at the NORAD center as an actual Soviet attack.

It gets worse.  Although Falken turns out to be still alive and living under an alias…and he and David are able to convince the NORAD officers that what they are seeing on their screen is not real and to cancel any retaliatory stroke, the control computer at NORAD, a system known as WOPR, continues playing its game…and, with humans at the launch sites taken out of the loop, begins trying to initiate a strike at the Soviet Union with live nuclear missiles.

The above is just a basic summary of the action of the movie.  There’s plenty wrong with it from a timeline and a technology viewpoint…for example, WOPR in the movie can launch missiles by repetitively trying launch codes at high speed until it finds one that works–pretty sure no one would have designed such a cryptographic system in such a simplistic way, even in 1983. But the movie works very well as cinema, the characters are interesting and the acting is good–definitely worth seeing.  But how might this movie relate to the current concerns about artificial intelligence?

In discussing the movie, I mentioned that the NORAD staff originally thought that what they saw on their screen was real, even though it was really just a simulation.  Which reminds me of a real-life event that happened to the cruise ship Royal Majesty back in 1995. The crew was navigating using GPS: the screen showed a very convincing portrayal of the ship’s position with surrounding land, water depth, obstacles, and navigational aids such as buoys and markers. But the portrayal was wrong.  The GPS antenna cable had come loose, and the GPS unit had gone into Dead Reckoning mode, simply calculating the current position based on the last known GPS position carried forward based on course and speed. Which was bound to become increasingly inaccurate over time.

Asaf Degani, in his book Taming Hal, describes the scene:

As the gray sky turned black veil, the phosphorus-lit radar map with its neat lines and digital indication seemed clearer and more inviting than the dark world outside. As part of a sophisticated integrated bridge system, the radar map had everything–from a crisp radar picture, to ship position, buoy renderings, and up to the last bit of data anyone could want–until it seemed that the entire world lived and moved transparently, inside that little green screen. Using this compelling display, the second officer was piloting a phantom ship on an electronic lie, and nobody called the bluff.

Read more

The Giraffe and the Unicorn

Stephen Sachs asked ChatGPT for its ideas about what a giraffe might want to say in an address to the American Chemical Society. Here’s what it came back with.

I was inspired to pose the following question:

I am a unicorn, a male unicorn to be specific, and I have to give a speech to the League of Women Voters. Please give me some ideas about what to say.

Here is what ChatGPT came back with.