A short comic by Mike Dawson. Stick to the end for a valid point.
A sensible proposal in The Atlantic from philosopher Daniel Dennett. Is anyone campaigning for a law or regulation to this effect?
Creating counterfeit digital people risks destroying our civilization. Democracy depends on the informed (not misinformed) consent of the governed. By allowing the most economically and politically powerful people, corporations, and governments to control our attention, these systems will control us. Counterfeit people, by distracting and confusing us and by exploiting our most irresistible fears and anxieties, will lead us into temptation and, from there, into acquiescing to our own subjugation.
There may be a way of at least postponing and possibly even extinguishing this ominous development, borrowing from the success—limited but impressive—in keeping counterfeit money merely in the nuisance category for most of us (or do you carefully examine every $20 bill you receive?).
As [historian Yuval Noah] Harari says, we must “make it mandatory for AI to disclose that it is an AI.” How could we do that? By adopting a high-tech “watermark” system like the EURion Constellation, which now protects most of the world’s currencies. The system, though not foolproof, is exceedingly difficult and costly to overpower—not worth the effort, for almost all agents, even governments. Computer scientists similarly have the capacity to create almost indelible patterns that will scream FAKE! under almost all conditions—so long as the manufacturers of cellphones, computers, digital TVs, and other devices cooperate by installing the software that will interrupt any fake messages with a warning.
So, I would like to propose another metaphor for the risks of artificial intelligence. I suggest that we think about A.I. as a management-consulting firm, along the lines of McKinsey & Company. Firms like McKinsey are hired for a wide variety of reasons, and A.I. systems are used for many reasons, too. But the similarities between McKinsey—a consulting firm that works with ninety per cent of the Fortune 100—and A.I. are also clear. Social-media companies use machine learning to keep users glued to their feeds. In a similar way, Purdue Pharma used McKinsey to figure out how to “turbocharge” sales of OxyContin during the opioid epidemic. Just as A.I. promises to offer managers a cheap replacement for human workers, so McKinsey and similar firms helped normalize the practice of mass layoffs as a way of increasing stock prices and executive compensation, contributing to the destruction of the middle class in America.
A former McKinsey employee has described the company as “capital’s willing executioners”: if you want something done but don’t want to get your hands dirty, McKinsey will do it for you. That escape from accountability is one of the most valuable services that management consultancies provide. Bosses have certain goals, but don’t want to be blamed for doing what’s necessary to achieve those goals; by hiring consultants, management can say that they were just following independent, expert advice. Even in its current rudimentary form, A.I. has become a way for a company to evade responsibility by saying that it’s just doing what “the algorithm” says, even though it was the company that commissioned the algorithm in the first place.
Li-yao Xia has written in Agda a model of a gradual type system for effects and handlers. It is available on GitHub.
The Elements of Style and Pinker's The Sense of Style. Now I have another resource to recommend.
Benjamin Pierce writes:
In 2021, Rajeev Alur and I created a course at Penn called Writing and
Speaking with Style. Aimed at PhD students in computer science and other
areas of science and engineering, the course is a semester-long immersion
in effective technical writing and speaking. Since then, I've run it twice
more, improving and polishing each time. I think it's pretty good now. :-)
In hopes that the course materials may be useful to others, all the slide
decks, timeline, readings, and detailed notes for instructors are now
publicly available: you can find it all here.
Amongst all the nonsense, something sensible in the press about AI: "AI machines aren’t ‘hallucinating’, But their makers are" in The Guardian. Written by Naomi Klein, the author of one of my favourite books, This Changes Everything.
Benchmarking best practices
A fascinating blog post by Adam Mastroianni, suggesting that peer review is a failed experiment.
From antiquity to modernity, scientists wrote letters and circulated monographs, and the main barriers stopping them from communicating their findings were the cost of paper, postage, or a printing press, or on rare occasions, the cost of a visit from the Catholic Church. Scientific journals appeared in the 1600s, but they operated more like magazines or newsletters, and their processes of picking articles ranged from “we print whatever we get” to “the editor asks his friend what he thinks” to “the whole society votes.” Sometimes journals couldn’t get enough papers to publish, so editors had to go around begging their friends to submit manuscripts, or fill the space themselves. Scientific publishing remained a hodgepodge for centuries.
(Only one of Einstein’s papers was ever peer-reviewed, by the way, and he was so surprised and upset that he published his paper in a different journal instead.)
That all changed after World War II. Governments poured funding into research, and they convened “peer reviewers” to ensure they weren’t wasting their money on foolish proposals. That funding turned into a deluge of papers, and journals that previously struggled to fill their pages now struggled to pick which articles to print. Reviewing papers before publication, which was “quite rare” until the 1960s, became much more common. Then it became universal.
Now pretty much every journal uses outside experts to vet papers, and papers that don’t please reviewers get rejected. You can still write to your friends about your findings, but hiring committees and grant agencies act as if the only science that exists is the stuff published in peer-reviewed journals. This is the grand experiment we’ve been running for six decades.
The results are in. It failed.
Thanks to Scott Delman for the pointer.
The post also cites a scientific paper by Mastroianni that he published direct to his blog, circumventing peer review while allowing him to write in a far more readable style. It's a great read, and you can find it here: Things Could be Better.