May 13, 2019

Three Crisis Articles

“Nothing in all the world is more dangerous, than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”
  -- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.



1. Summary
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from May 13, 2019

This is a Nederlog of Monday, May 13, 2019.

I bought a computer on May 9 with Ubuntu 18.04 LTS MATE and am for the coming months (at least) "between two computers".  I shall continue - for the time being - to write and upload my files from 16.04 LTS (that is: from the old computer, that I bought in 2012) because that is easier right now and the old computer still works (and may continue to work for another two years or more, although I do not know that).

Also, and in any case, I decided to write less on the crisis (I did review over 10,000 files since 2013), in part because it makes no difference and in part because I am 69.

But I'll continue Nederlog. At present this is in a midway position between the old style (five reviews each day) and some new style, that I do not know yet, and that for the time being I fix on three reviews each day (but that may change).

1. Summary

This is a crisis log but it is a bit different from how it was until 2013:

I have been writing about the crisis since September 1, 2008 (in Dutch, but since 2010 in English) and about the enormous dangers of surveillance (by secret services and by many rich commercial entities) since June 10, 2013, and I will continue with it.

On the moment and since more than three years (!!!!) I have problems with the company that is supposed to take care that my site is visible [1] and with my health, but I am still writing a Nederlog every day and I shall continue.

2. Crisis Files

A. Selections from May 13, 2019:

The indented text under each link is quoted from the link that starts the item. Unindented text is by me:
1. Swarms of Drones May Soon Patrol Europe’s Borders
2. We Finally Know When Humans Started Changing the Climate

3. What's behind Donald Trump's bewildering avalanche of lies?

1. Swarms of Drones May Soon Patrol Europe’s Borders

This article is by Zach Campbell on The Intercept. I abbreviated the title. This is from near its beginning:

The European Union is financing a project to develop drones piloted by artificial intelligence and designed to autonomously patrol Europe’s borders. The drones will operate in swarms, coordinating and corroborating information among fleets of quadcopters, small fixed-wing airplanes, ground vehicles, submarines, and boats. Developers of the project, known as Roborder, say the robots will be able to identify humans and independently decide whether they represent a threat. If they determine that you may have committed a crime, they will notify border police.

I say, which I do because while I did not know the above, I have been expecting this kind of news. So here it is. I suppose I agree with what I've just quoted, but there are immediately several additional consequences, of which I note four:

(1) the robots will themselves identify whether a human may (!) have committed a crime;
(2) what they will consider "a crime" will not depend on the law but on the programmers; and
(3) it is extremely easy to extend the robots, once they are flying, with all kinds of weapons;
(4) this is private research, which means that the rules of the drones will be mostly secret.

More on this below. Here is some background:

In Europe, two years after the height of the migration crisis that brought more than a million people to the continent, mostly from the Middle East and Africa, immigration remains a hot-button issue, even as the number of new arrivals has dropped. Political parties across the European Union are winning elections on anti-immigrant platforms and enacting increasingly restrictive border policies. Tech ethicists and privacy advocates worry that Roborder and projects like it outsource too much law enforcement work to nonhuman actors and could easily be weaponized against people in border areas.

Yes, quite so. Also, I have to admit that I agree there is an immigration problem in the following sense: In any case, whatever you think about immigrating into Europe for non-Europeans, it is quite clear that there are many more would-be immigrants into Europe than there are places for would-be immigrants.

I think that is true (although I disagree with the European politicians about more). And here is something about developing and relying on drones:

“The development of these systems is a dark step into morally dangerous territory,” said Noel Sharkey, emeritus professor of robotics and artificial intelligence at Sheffield University in the U.K. and one of the founders of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control, a nonprofit that advocates against the military use of robotics. Sharkey lists examples of weaponized drones currently on the market: flying robots equipped with Tasers, pepper spray, rubber bullets, and other weapons. He warns of the implications of combining that technology with AI-based decision-making and using it in politically-charged border zones. “It’s only a matter of time before a drone will be able to take action to stop people,” Sharkey told The Intercept.

Yes, I completely agree with Sharkey, and indeed I also have an additional reason why those who disagree with Sharkey would want to develop drones and rely on them. It is as follows, and while I admit it is cynical, that is no argument against its possible truth:

In general (apart from certain individuals, who are always in minority) the valuations of ordinary people of people who in some sense oppose them, if only by being different from them, tend to be that those who oppose them have a far lesser human value than themselves, which means that one major problem for the ordinary people is how to deal with their opponents without getting dirty hands themselves. Well: drones with artificial intelligence - especially with artiticial intelligence that can also kill - are an answer to the problem of getting dirty hands. For you can blame whatever happens on the artificial intelligence (which also will be largely secret anyway).

I think the above is probably true, but you may disagree. Here is some more on the drones that are currently being developed:

Roborder’s developers also may be violating the terms of their funding, according to documents about the project obtained via European Union transparency regulations. The initiative is mostly financed by an €8 million EU research and innovation grant designed for projects that are exclusively nonmilitary, but Roborder’s developers acknowledge that parts of their proposed system involve military technology or could easily be converted for military use.

As I have been pointing out above. Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:

But Sharkey, the U.K. robotics professor, argues that there is a thin line between using robots to monitor a border and using them to enforce one. Weaponizing a drone is relatively easy, he said, citing the 2015 case of the Connecticut teenager who equipped a drone with a handgun and a flamethrower. Sharkey worries about the implications of developing autonomous systems to patrol borders, including how the system could be used by a country coping with a large influx of people.

“The question is, where is this going?” Sharkey asked. “The current project does not propose to weaponize them, but it would just be too tempting for countries if a tipping point were to happen with mass migration.”

Yes, I agree with Sharkey and this is a strongly recommended article, in which there also is a lot more than I reported in this review.

2. We Finally Know When Humans Started Changing the Climate

This article is by Tim Radford on Truthdig and originally on the Climate News Network. It starts as follows:

Our influence on the Earth’s environment has lasted for a century: the human impact on droughts and moisture patterns began at least 100 years ago, researchers now say.

US scientists used new analytic techniques and almost a thousand years of tree-ring data to build up a picture of drought and rainfall worldwide for the last century. And they report in the journal Nature that they have identified the human fingerprint upon climate variation as far back as the first days of the motor car and the infant aircraft industry.

The pattern of change, in which regions prone to drought such as the western US became more arid, grew visible between 1900 and 1949. The researchers saw the same pattern of drying in those decades in Australia, Europe, the Mediterranean, western Russia and southeast Asia.

At the same time more rain and snow fell in western China, much of central Asia, the Indian subcontinent, Indonesia and central Canada.

I say, for I did not know about the above reported research, but I think it may well be correct.

Here is some more:

Kate Marvel of the Nasa Goddard Institute for Space Studies, who led the research, said: “It’s mind-boggling. There really is a clear signal of the effects of greenhouse gases on the hydroclimate.”

And Benjamin Cook of both the Nasa Institute and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, said: “We asked, does the real world look like what the models tell us to expect? The answer is yes.

“The big thing we learned is that climate change started affecting global patterns of drought in the early 20th century. We expect this pattern to keep emerging as climate change continues.”

I say again, with the same remark as above. Here is the ending of this article:

If the researchers have got it right, the pattern of increasing drought, matched elsewhere by increasing precipitation, will continue to become stronger.

“If we don’t see it coming in stronger in, say, the next 10 years, we might have to wonder whether we are right,” Dr Marvel said. “But all the models are projecting that you should see unprecedented drying soon, in a lot of places.”

And the researchers warn that the consequences for humankind, especially in North America and Eurasia, could be severe.

Yes, I quite agree and this is a recommended article.

3. What's behind Donald Trump's bewildering avalanche of lies?

This article is by Paul Rosenberg on Salon. I abbreviated the title. It starts as follows:

So Donald Trump has told 10,000-plus lies, or “misstatements,” since taking office as president. So what? All those lies, and what sense have we made of them? That’s the first question that really matters: What sense can we make of an avalanche of lies designed to overwhelm our capacity to make sense of anything? The second question is also important: What can we do about them?

One thing should be clear: The media shouldn’t be repeating them, giving Trump’s lies more life. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what they’re doing, according to a recent Media Matters study, which  found that major media outlets routinely amplified Trump’s false claims on their Twitter accounts — 19 times a day, on average.

I agree with the first quoted paragraph, but do not quite know whether I agree with the second, because I do think that the only way to learn about Trump's extra-ordinarily many lies is to count them and to publish them as lies, and it is not quite clear whether Rosenberg agrees.

I suppose he does, and here is some more from the article:

The study period ran from Jan. 26 to Feb. 15 of this year, and its "key takeaways" included:

  • Nearly one-third of the tweets from major media outlets about Trump's remarks (30%) referenced a false or misleading statement.
  • Nearly two-thirds of the time, the outlets did not dispute that misinformation.
  • That means the outlets amplified false or misleading Trump claims without disputing them 407 times over the three weeks of the study, an average of 19 times a day.

So, that’s what we shouldn’t be doing. But what to do instead? That should be informed by knowledge and understanding — first about the nature of Trump’s lies themselves, and then, more broadly about how they function and what they’re intended to do.

I agree with the above. Here is some more (and "bottomless Pinocchios" are big lies):

A better sense can be gained by grouping the bottomless Pinocchios by subject matter, which give us the following set of totals:

  • 505 lies about immigration
  • 402 lies about Trump's economic accomplishments
  • 143 lies about exaggerated military spending
  • 127 lies about Trump himself being persecuted

It’s hardly an accident, or a surprise, that the top two subjects of Trump’s lies revolve around the so-called issues that made him president — his racist appeals to fears and hatred of immigration and his bogus claims of brilliant business success — exposed as never before in the recent New York Times tax record exposé.

I take it this is correct as well. Here is some more on Trump's lies, which differ significantly from the lies of most others, not only in frequency but in kind:

In her earlier work, [ Santa Barbara psychologist Bella DePaulo] had found that most lies are either self-serving, or meant to flatter others — with the former about twice as common. Only around 1 to 2% of lies were defined as cruel. Trump, in contrast told 6.6 times as many self-serving lies as kind lies, and fully 50% of his lies were cruel.

In addition DePaulo wrote, Trump's lies "often served several purposes simultaneously (for example, sometimes they were both self-serving and cruel).”

I think that is probably correct. Here is more on Trump's lies:
“It's important to realize that lies are marketing for Trump,” Mercieca said. “He isn't concerned about whether or not a statement is true or false. Veracity isn't important at all. He is concerned with shaping our understanding, with framing.”
Trump doesn't even care that it's a lie. It's just a means to an end. Trump is a very strategic and instrumental communicator.”
Yes, I agree. Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:

Trump proclaims his truth as the one and only truth and asks his audiences to deny their own perception of reality. It's a pre-Cartesian view of truth — ‘truth’ is no longer what we perceive (I think, therefore I am), but what Trump says is true.

“Folks who call it a form of ‘gaslighting’ are correct,” Mercieca went on. “Trump's constant blizzard of lies denies us the possibility of knowing. It's its own epistemology. And if that doesn't frighten you, the constant barrage of lies are authoritarian — they are used to prevent him from being held accountable for his words and actions.”

Well... I think both paragraphs contain mistakes:

The "
pre-Cartesian view of truth" is bullshit, for the simple reason that you can still think that you are because you think, while also insisting that you think Trump speaks the truth about politics. (That also means that you are very probably stupid, but that is as may be.)

As to the second paragraph: It may be correct that one of Trump's intentions with his lies is gaslighting people, but I also think that "
Trump's constant blizzard of lies denies us the possibility of knowing. It's its own epistemology" is basically bullshit for anybody who is fairly intelligent. Also - and I am a philosopher - in what sense lies are "its own epistemology" is a total riddle to me.

Then again, for the most part this is a decent and recommended article.

[1] I have now been saying since the end of 2015 that is systematically ruining my site by NOT updating it within a few seconds, as it did between 1996 and 2015, but by updating it between two to seven days later, that is, if I am lucky.

They have claimed that my site was wrongly named in html: A lie. They have claimed that my operating system was out of date: A lie.

And they just don't care for my site, my interests, my values or my ideas. They have behaved now for 3 years as if they are the eagerly willing instruments of the US's secret services, which I will from now on suppose they are (for truth is dead in Holland).

The only two reasons I remain with xs4all is that my site has been there since 1996, and I have no reasons whatsoever to suppose that any other Dutch provider is any better (!!).
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