Humans Ruin the Economy

Humans are ruining the economy.

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This is the caption on the sign for this segment. The sign advertises a solution, which is to “Vote for DEMOCROBOT… The first party run by artificial intelligence”. It also promises to “give everyone a living wage of £1436.78 a week”.

I have been very vocal that I find the idea of humans governing humans is a bad idea at the start. By and large, humans are abysmal system thinkers and easily get lost in complexity. This is why our governments and economies require so much external energy and course correction. Not only were they poorly designed and implemented, but they’re also trying to manage a dynamic system—a complex system. It won’t work.

What about bots and artificial intelligence? The above image was posted elsewhere, and a person commented that our governments are already filled with artificial intelligence. I argued that at best we’ve got pseudo-intelligence; at worse, we’ve got artificial pseudo-intelligence, API.

The challenge with AI is that it’s developed by humans with all of their faults and biases in-built.

The challenge with AI is that it’s developed by humans with all of their faults and biases in-built. On the upside, at least in theory, rules could be created to afford consistency and escape political theatre. The same could be extended to the justice system, but I’ll not range there.

Part of the challenge is that the AI needs to optimise several factors, at least, and not all factors are measurable or can be quantified. Any such attempt would tip the playing field one way or another. We might assume that at least AI would be unreceptive to lobbying and meddling, but would this be the case? AI—or rather ML, Machine Learning or DL, Deep Learning—rely on input. It wouldn’t take long for interested think tanks to flood the source of inputs with misinformation. And if there is an information curator, we’ve got a principle-agent problem—who’s watching the watcher?—, and we may need to invoke Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon solution.

One might even argue that an open-source, independently audited system would work. Who would be auditing and whose interpretation and opinion would we trust? Then I think of Enron and Worldcom. Auditors paid to falsify their audit results. I’d also argue that this would cause a shift from the political class to the tech class, but the political class is already several tiers down and below the tech class, so the oligarchs still win.

This seems to be little more than a free-association rant, so I’ll pile on one more reflection. Google and Facebook (or Meta) have ethical governing bodies that are summarily shunned or simply ignored when they point out that the parent company is inherently unethical or immoral. I wouldn’t expect much difference here.

I need a bot to help write my posts. I’ll end here.

Forrest for Trees, a Midjourney to DALL-E

“My mom always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”

Forrest Gump

The leading quote cannot be more appropriate for my experience trying to render Forrest Gump in a forest. It may be me, but I want to blame the technology. I was trying to render a metaphorically appropriate image of missing the Forrest for the trees by literally placing Forrest Gump in the woods. Let’s just say your mileage may vary.

My first attempt was to prompt Midjourney with this string:

forrest gump standing in a savannah georgia forest cinema photorealistic high detail

I seem to have got [a] (possibly) Forrest Gump standing; [b] a Savannah forest [c] (perhaps) Forrest Gump in a cinema; and [d] a larger-than-life Forrest Gump standing among the trees.

Let’s try something new to see where it goes:

tom hanks forrest gump standing in a savannah georgia tree forest cinema photorealistic high detail

Hmm. I certainly see the rendering engine picked up on the tree tag, but what became of Forrest and Tom. There seems to be a figure standing in the distance. Not exactly impressive. Let’s switch from Midjourney to DALL-E-2 and tweak the prompt:

tom hanks as forrest gump wearing a seersucker suit and standing in a savannah georgia tree forest cinematic hyper-realistic

Various DALL-E-2 renders of Forrest Gump in a Savannah, GA, forest

Note that these are in reverse chronological order, so the lower images were rendered first. Dall-E renders 4 images at a time, as does Midjourney. After the bottom four images, I added Tom Hanks‘ name and the seersucker suit for obvious reasons.

I added his seersucker suit that seemed to (occasionally) make its way into a render. It is looking better, but I am not convinced that DALL-E knows about Tom Hanks. In the final four images (from the top left), I edited the fourth image on the second row and explicitly instructed Dall-E to insert Tom Hanks’ face without much luck.

I had one more idea. I could use the DALL-E render as a seed image for Midjourney. This is the last image at the top of the gallery strip at the top of this page. Certainly more Tom Hanks’ likeness, but at the expense of the trees, save for the first in the quadrant that appears to contain only trees.

In the end, I’ll just say that I did not obtain a suitable render for use as a metaphor elsewhere, but I did get fodder for this post. I have to admit there’s a certain creep factor. I can easily imagine Michael Myers from the Halloween franchise—not to be confused with Mike Myers of Austin Powers and Shrek franchises—in place of Forrest.

DALL-E-2 is now in open beta, and you can generate up to 50 free images your first month and 15 free thereafter. It’s the easier of the two engines. Midjourney needs to be run as a Discord bot and seemed to be aimed more at professionals, but you can still get 25 free images when you join. After 25 images, you’ll be prompted to join.

What do you think? Have you tried these or another AI image generation engine? Let me know in the comments.

Whitewashing Spoken English

An AI startup is facing allegations of racism and discrimination after being accused of manipulating non-American accents to sound “more white.” The company uses speech recognition technology to change the user’s accent in near-real time. (Source)

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Friction is an impediment to a perfect customer experience. Removing this friction is always welcome, but homogenisation by a dominant culture is a bit more sketchy. It’s laudable that someone aims to remove friction from communication. Raze that tower of Babel—or does it need constructing? I’m no biblical scholar. I’m all for fostering communication, but this control should be an option for the customer receiving the call, not the sender—press 1 if you don’t wish to hear a foreign accent.

When it comes down to it, translation services have the same challenge. Which accent comes out the other end? (I’ll guess it is similar to this one.)

And what American accent is being represented? The neutral accent of the flyover states, the Texas drawl, or the non-rhotic accent of Harvard Yard? I’m guessing it’s not California cool or urban Philadelphia or down on the bayou. Press 7 for Canadian English, eh?

It’s bad enough that US English, despite having a minority of speakers, is running roughshod over World English

It’s bad enough that US English, despite having a minority of speakers, is running roughshod over World English spelling and pronunciation, colonising the world via streaming services and infestation on the internet.

The BBC relaxed its RP requirements in 1989 for the purpose of regional cultural inclusiveness. Which direction do we want to go?

In the end, this is another example of businesses being more concerned with business than customers and the human experience.

As for me, I prefer an accent I don’t have to work so hard to discern. But at the same time, I’ve worked with many people whose first language is not English, and though it does take a bit more effort, it’s really not that difficult. Besides, I’ve heard native English speakers with regional accents and dialects that are just as taxing.

I sent a survey a month or so ago asking which regional accent people preferred. As it turned out—and not unsurprisingly—, people preferred the English they are used to hearing. Continental Indians preferred continental English; Americans wanted neutral American English; Jamaicans preferred Jamaican English, and British speakers preferred modern RP. And so it goes.

What’s your take?

Man versus Machine

Human-designed systems seem to need a central orchestration mechanism—similar to the cognitive homunculus-observer construct substance dualists can’t seem to escape—, where consciousness (for want of a better name) is more likely the result of an asynchronous web with the brain operating as a predictive difference and categorisation engine rather than the perceived cognitive coalescence we attempt to model. Until we unblock our binary fixedness, we’ll continue to fall short. Not even quantum computing will get us there if we can’t escape our own cognitive limitations in this regard. Until then, this error-correcting mechanism will be as close to an approximation of an approximation that we can hope for.

The net-input function of this machine learning algorithm operates as a heuristic for human cognition. Human-created processes can’t seem to create this decoupled, asynchronous heuristic process, instead ending up with something that looks more like a railway switching terminal.

Cover photo: Railroad tracks stretch toward Chicago’s skyline at Metra’s A2 switching station on March 29, 2019. (Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune); story

What wrong with anarcho-syndicalism?

What’s an anarcho-syndicalist supposed to do in the advent of artificial intelligence, process automation, and robots?

Wikipedia relates anarcho-Syndicalism as follows:

Anarcho-syndicalism (also referred to as revolutionary syndicalism)[1] is a theory of anarchism that views revolutionary industrial unionism or syndicalism as a method for workers in capitalist society to gain control of an economy and thus control influence in broader society. Syndicalists consider their economic theories a strategy for facilitating worker self-activity and as an alternative co-operative economic system with democratic values and production centered on meeting human needs.

The basic principles of anarcho-syndicalism are solidaritydirect action (action undertaken without the intervention of third parties such as politicians, bureaucrats and arbitrators) and direct democracy, or workers’ self-management. The end goal of syndicalism is to abolish the wage system, regarding it as wage slavery. Anarcho-syndicalist theory therefore generally focuses on the labour movement.[2]

Anarcho-syndicalists view the primary purpose of the state as being the defense of private property, and therefore of economic, social and political privilege, denying most of its citizens the ability to enjoy material independence and the social autonomy that springs from it.[3] Reflecting the anarchist philosophy from which it draws its primary inspiration, anarcho-syndicalism is centred on the idea that power corrupts and that any hierarchy that cannot be ethically justified must either be dismantled or replaced by decentralized egalitarian control.[3]

As a matter of preference, I’ve leaned toward anarcho-syndicalism. I don’t have a lot of faith in humans or humanity to govern or self-govern. The arguments for this, whether monarchies, democracies, plutocracies, or even anarchies are each rife with its own sets of problems. Still, I favour a system where there is no class of governors, though I am more of a fan of Proudhon over Marx.

Mind you, I don’t think humans make very good judgements and are as bad in groups as individuals but for different reasons—and especially where complexity or too many choices are available. That we’ve survived this long is, quite frankly, a miracle.

This said, it isn’t my problem. My contention is with the syndicalist aspect. If all of this human as worker displacement occurs as some are forecasting, there will be precious few workers. I am not saying that this is inevitable or will ever happen. My concern is merely conditional. If this were to happen, the idea of a worker-centric system is daft.

Do we just defer to people categorically, where we arrive at simple anarchism? Without delving, there are different flavours of, and I have neither the time nor the inclination to debate, for example, the merits of anarco-capitalism (an oxymoron if there ever was one) versus anarcho-communism or anarcho-transhumanism for that matter.

Although, I like how Kant identified four kinds of government…

  • Law and freedom without force (anarchy)
  • Law and force without freedom (despotism)
  • Force without freedom and law (barbarism)
  • Force with freedom and law (republic)

…the whole notion of freedom is another weasel word, and laws without force are unenforceable—pun intended. At least the syndicalism felt like it was intentional or purposeful. I understand why Plato despised the rabble, but as with the sorites paradox in the heap-hill distinction, where to the rabble distil down to something meaningful?