It’s been roughly two weeks since stunning news broke that Trump had fired James Comey. It may as well have been a decade.

Since then, Trump admitted in an TV interview that he canned Comey to end the Russian investigation, the FBI director produced a memo of a conversation in which the President asked him to let Mike Flynn off the hook and it’s been reported that the Administration prevailed upon the DNI and NSI directors to intervene on his behalf to end the inquiry. Complicating matters further, the Putin praiser shared secret intelligence with Russian representatives in the White House. 

If this nonstop turmoil seems like Watergate played out at warp speed, Elizabeth Drew, the political journalist who chronicled Richard Nixon’s disgrace, doesn’t believe potential collusion with a foreign adversary nor obstruction of justice will result in a speedy ending for our Kremlin-loving kakistocracy, even if that’s what the country dearly needs. She warns that progress to endgame may be grindingly slow and must be bipartisan, a trickier feat to achieve today than in the 1970s.

Three excerpts follow from Matthias Kolb’s long-form Süddeutsche Zeitung Q&A with Drew, conducted soon after Comey’s ouster.



You know so many people on the Hill, in Washington Journal you describe how the different senators and congressmen talked to you about their thought process about how and when to criticize Nixon. Is this a similar situation?

Elizabeth Drew:

Not quite yet. If you took a secret ballot, Trump would be out. But it doesn’t work that way. I do know from various sources, most Republicans in the Senate want him out; they joke about it. I wrote that in a recent article.  The senators see each other in the gym or in the hallways and some weeks ago some Republicans  on the Senate floor were taking bets with each other over how Trump is going to be forced to leave office, not whether. Several sources told me about this. But they are not anywhere near… they are not ready for this.



You have covered American politics and presidents for more than five decades. Has there been anything similar to that?  

Elizabeth Drew:

No, Ronald Reagan maybe. He was an actor who was not very verbal. Reagan spoke well and could read aloud smoothly what was written down for him. But he was not a thinker. Barack Obama was our most contemplative president, a real intellectual. Reagan was not and Trump is definitely not. Trump doesn’t like to read. He gets intelligence briefings which he doesn’t like. His staff asks people to present things to him in pictures, that is similar with Reagan. I remember an aide telling me that he tried to explain something to Reagan about the war on drugs, and he made it like a movie plot to get Reagan’s attention. Trump likes pictures, aides have to draw things. It is alarming. Trump has no attention span, he is very impatient.



Will Trump stay in office for four years?

Elizabeth Drew:

From the beginning, I’ve thought that he wouldn’t last. He looks frustrated so much of the time. In his business, no one was in a position to block him.  He’s been going through a frustrating time. He’s lonely;  Mrs. Trump is apparently moving down here in the summer, but he’s not a quitter. And he likes being president; He said that the other day at this victory party at the Rose Garden after the House passed  the health care bill. You all saw the pictures, I’m sure. He said: “How’m I doing? I am president, can’t you see?” He will not give it up, I think. Things would have to become really bad. But I wouldn’t put any money on anything.       


If some younger reporters ask you for advice how to cover the Trump administration, what do you tell them? I took away from reading “Washington Journal”  that you should be skeptical about simple narratives and that historic events like Watergate could have gone a different way. 

Elizabeth Drew:

Watergate was not the simple narrative that many take it to be, nor will this be – however it turns out. and will never be. I tell those reporters: “Let it play out, don’t try to game it. Follow what is happening and watch for certain things.” I also tell my friends: Watch for certain things and be patient. Trump will be in trouble for firing Comey,  and it likely will build. Be careful and you have to be responsible with what you are writing. Watch the Republicans: He cannot be driven from office just by Democrats. Watch for key Republicans to say certain things that might signal that he is in serious trouble. Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority leader, is important. I’m sure that he has in his head how he wants to handle this, but he won’t say much. He’s a careful and smart man who has been around for decades. If you hear criticism of the president by Mitch McConnell, he’s in big trouble. You can’t just rush a president out of office because you don’t like him. It doesn’t work that way and should not work that way. It must not be partisan because it otherwise will not be successful. It would tear the country apart.•

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Inconvenient it is for any state when an erstwhile national hero turns into an embarrassment. In America, for instance, we have Bobby Fischer, whose mind proved a buggy machine, and earlier, Charles Lindbergh, who crashed and burned after soaring to unprecedented heights.

Norway knew its own shocking albatross in 1940 when Knut Hamsun, the Nobel Prize-winning author, embraced Adolf Hitler as a liberator, even arranging a meeting with the German madman. It’s been some years since I read Hunger, with its nameless Raskolnikovian protagonist, a down-and-out intellectual, though I feel pretty confident saying that it was better than a Canetti but not as good as a Dostoyevsky.

From the May 5, 1940 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:


In his annual letter to shareholders, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, whose former reputation as one of banking’s “good guys” was more a referendum on his sordid peers than a compliment to himself, defended the Trump Administration’s ardor for deregulation with the following dubious claim: “Essentially, too big to fail has been solved — taxpayers will not pay if a bank fails.”

His underlying assumption is that bankers will behave rationally because there will (potentially) be serious penalties should they grab for short-term sacks of cash in a manner that may eventually imperil their firms. This is a failure to understand psychology as well as economics.

Most of the poor behavior on Wall Street that led to the collapse of 2008 was done with very little thought for the future, that nebulous thing. Now mattered far more than then. Humans will always be, to some degree, irrational and exuberant, especially when money is involved. Smart regulations are drawn and enforced to save us from ourselves.

· · ·

Speaking of regulation: In his latest Financial Times column, Tim Harford writes of an oft-overlooked aspect of the challenges facing contemporary workers. Outsourcing, robotics and contracting aren’t the only threats to our positions. The uber-consolidation within American business sectors has made for “superstar firms,” behemoths that can operate with brute efficiency, a development that can be devastating for employees. It’s a problem that won’t likely solve itself.

An excerpt:

Superstar firms, instead, seem to be the cause. The story is simple. These businesses are highly productive and achieve more with less. Because of this profitability, more of the value added by the company flows to shareholders and less to workers. And what happens in these groups will tend to be reflected in the economy as a whole, because superstar firms have an increasingly important role.

All this poses a headache for policymakers — assuming policymakers can pay attention to the issue for long enough. The policy response required is subtle: after all, the growth of innovative, productive companies is welcome. It’s the unintended consequences of that growth that pose problems.

Those consequences are not easy to predict, but here are two possibilities. Either the US economy ends up like Amazon, or it ends up like Microsoft. The Amazon future is one of relentless competition, a paradise for consumers but a nightmare for workers, and with the ever-present risk that dominant businesses will snuff out competition as the mood takes them.

The Microsoft future epitomises the economist John Hicks’s quip: “the best of all monopoly profits is a quiet life”. Microsoft in the 1990s became famous as a once-brilliant company that decided to pull up the drawbridge, locking in consumers and locking out competitors.

In either scenario ordinary people lose out, unless they can enjoy returns from capital as well as returns from working.•

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10 search-engine keyphrases bringing traffic to Afflictor this week:

  1. war is poetry to steve bannon
  2. germ warfare
  3. james baker donald trump supporter
  4. trump’s compulsive believers
  5. blundering into nuclear war
  6. bill o’reilly abe lincoln
  7. congressman john lewis
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  9. oppenheimer on trial
  10. great journalism from 2016

Ah, Riyadh at last. Here, I’m finally free of Russiagate.

The medal’s nice, but can we touch a glowing ball with some other men?

Sally, we’ll get to state business as soon as I’m done opening a golf course.

This is great. What could possibly go wrong?

Hi Don. Remember to remove sanctions on Russia or pee tape, recorded phone calls, treason-related hanging, et cetera.

Who are those men handcuffing your husband?


• Trump undermining democracy and the GOP tearing the social safety net are dual threats to peace in America.

In the wake of the Washington Post Trump scoop, read Garry Willis’ 1974 review of All the President’s Men.

• Tax reform is a ridiculous reason for the GOP to protect Trump.

• Matt Taibbi penned an appropriately punishing postmortem of Roger Ailes.

• Julian Assange, perhaps a Kremlin stooge, spoke to Spiegel.

• Peter Diamandis believes humans will soon be massively connected.

• MADCOMS could make machines the “driving force in our culture.”

• In 1979, David Levy, chess hustler, knew machines would soon dominate.

• Technology giants, not the government, may build the AI Future.

• Nicholas Carr argues the robot apocalypse is being oversold.

• A brief note from 1888 about elephant executioners.

• A brief note from 1936 about Man Ray’s near-decapitation.

• This week’s Afflictor keyphrase searches: Alec Baldwin, Julius Evola, etc.

In a 1979 Omni interview, Dr. Christopher Evans spoke with chess player, businessman and AI enthusiast David Levy, who defeated a computer-chess competitor that year but was unnerved by his hard-fought victory. Just six years earlier, he had confidently said: “I am tempted to speculate that a computer program will not gain the title of International Master before the turn of the century and that the idea of an electronic world champion belongs only in the pages of a science fiction book.” Levy knew before the matches at the end of the ’70s were over that our time of dominance was nearing completion.

An excerpt:


When did you first begin to feel that computer chess programs were really getting somewhere?

David Levy:

I think it was at the tournament in Stockholm in 1974. One of the things that struck me was a game in which one of the American programs made the sacrifice of a piece, in return for which it got a very good positional advantage. Now, programs don’t normally give up pieces unless they can see something absolutely concrete, but in this case the advantages that it got were not concrete but rather in the structure or nature of the position. It wasn’t a difficult sacrifice for a human player to see, but it was something ! hadn’t expected from a computer program. I was giving a running commentary on the game, and I remember saying to the audience that i would be very surprised indeed if the program made this sacrifice, whereupon it went and made it. I was very, very impressed, because this was the first really significant jump that I’d seen in computer chess.


So somewhere around that time things began to stir. To what do you attribute this?

David Levy:

Interest in computer chess generally was growing at a very fast rate, for a number of reasons. First of all, there were the annual tournaments in the United States at the ACM conferences, and these grew in popularity They inspired interest partly because there was now a competitive medium in which the programs could take part. Also, there was my bet, which had created a certain amount of publicity and, I suppose, made people wish that they could write the program that would beat me.


How much of this has gone hand in hand with the gradually greater availability of computers and the fact that it no longer costs the earth to get access to one?

David Levy:

Quite a lot. As recently as 1972, in San Antonio, I met some people who were actually writing a clandestine computer program to play chess. They hadn’t dared tell their university department about it because they would have been accused of wasting computer time. They were even unable to enter their program in the tournament, because. If they had they would have lost their positions at the university. Today the situation is dramatically changed, because it is so much easier to get machine time. Now, with the advent of home computers, I think it’s only a matter of time before everyone interested in computer chess will have the opportunity to write a personal chess program.


Times have changed, haven’t they? Not very long ago you’d see articles by science journalists saying that computers could never be compared with brains, because they couldn’t play a decent game of chess. There was even some jocular correspondence about what would happen if two computers played each other, and it was argued that if white opened with pawn to king four, black would immediately resign.

David Levy:

This presupposes thai chess is, in practical terms, a finite game. In theoretical terms it is because there is a limit to the number of moves you can make in any position, and the rules of the game also put an upper limit on the total number of moves that any game can involve. But the number of possible different chess games is stupendous — greater than the number of atoms in the universe, in fact. Even if each atom in the universe were a very, very fast computer and they were all working together, they still would not be able to play the perfect game of chess. So the idea that pawn to king four as an opening move could be proved to be a win for white by force is nonsense. One reason you hear these kinds of things is that most people do not understand either the nature of computer programs or the nature of chess. The man in the street tends to think that because chess grand masters are geniuses, their play is beyond the comprehension of a computer. What they don’t understand is that when a computer plays chess, it is just performing a large number ol arithmetic operations. Okay, the end result is typed out and constitutes a move in a game of chess. But the program isn’t thinking. It is just carrying out a series of instructions.


One sees some very peculiar, almost spooky moves made by computers, involving extraordinary sacrifices and almost dashing wins, Could they be just chance?

David Levy:

No. Wins like that are not chance. They are pure calculation, The best way to describe the situation is to divide the game of chess into two spheres, strategy and tactics. When I talk about tactics I mean things such as sacrifices with captures, checks, and threats on the queen or to force mate, When I talk about strategy I mean subtle maneuvering to try and gradually improve position. In the area of tactics, programs are really very powerful because of their ability to calculate deeply and accurately. Thus, where a program makes a spectacular move and forces mate two moves later, it is quite possible that the program has calculated the whole of that variation. These spectacular moves look marvelous, of course, to the spectator and to the reader of chess magazines’ because they are things one only expects from strong players. In fact, they’re the easiest things for a program to do.

What is very difficult for a. program is to make a really good, subtle, strategic move, because that involves long-range planning and a kind of undefinable sixth sense for what is ‘right in the position.’ This sixth sense, or instinct, is really one of the things that sorts out the men from the boys on the chessboard. The top chess programs may look at as many as two million positions every time they make a move. Chess masters, on the other hand, look at maybe lifty, so it’s evident that the nature of their thought processes, so to speak, are completely different. Perhaps the best way to put it is that Ihe human knows what he’s doing and the computer doesn’t.

I can explain this with an example from master chess. The Russian ex-world champion Mikhail Tal was. explaining after one game his reasons behind particular moves. In one position his- king was in check on king’s knight one. and he had a choice between moving it to. the corner or moving it nearer to the center of the board. Most players, without very much hesitation, would immediately put the king in the corner, because it’s safer there. But he rejected this move, and somebody in the audience said, ‘Please, Grand Master, can you tell us, Why did you move the king to the middle of the board when everybody knows, that it is safer in the comer?’ And he said, ‘Well, I thought that when we reached the sort of end game- which I anticipated, it would be very important to have my king near the center of the board.’ When they reached the end game, he won it by one move, because his king was one square nearer the vital part of the board than his opponent’s. Now this was something that he couldn’t have seen through blockbusting analysis and by looking ten or even twenty moves ahead. It was just feel.


This brings us up against the question of whether or not a computer will ever play a really great game of chess. How do you feel about I. J. Good’s suggestion that a computer could one day be world champion?

David Levy:

Well, ten years ago I would have said, ‘Nonsense.’ Now I am absolutely sure that in due course a computer will be a really outstanding and terrifyingly good world champion. It’s almost inevitable that within a decade computers will be maybe a hundred thousand or a million times faster than they are now. And with many, many computers working in parallel, one could place enormous computer resources at the disposal of chess programs. This will mean that the best players in the world will be wiped out by sheer force of computer power. Actually, from an aesthetic and also an emotional point of view, it would be very unfortunate if the program won the world championship by brute force. I would be much happier to see a world-champion program that looked at very small combinations of moves but looked at them intelligently. This would be far more meaningful, because it would mean that the programmer had mastered the technique of making computer programs ‘think’ in rather the same way that human beings do, which would be a significant advance in artificial intelligence.


Which brings us around to the tactics you adopt when playing computers. When did you play your first game against a chess program?

David Levy:

The first one that I remember was against an early version of the. Northwestern University program, and it presented no problems at all. These early programs were rather dull opponents, actually.

The latest ones, of course, are much more intelligent, particularly as they exhibit what you might also describe as psychological characteristics or even personal traits.


Could you give an example?

David Levy:

Well, there is this thing called the horizon effect. Say a program is threatened with the loss of a knight which it does not want lo lose. No matter what it does, it cannot see a way to avoid losing the knight within the horizon that it is looking at — say, four moves deep. Suddenly it spots a variation where by sacrificing a pawn it is not losing the knight anymore. It will go into this variation and sacrifice the pawn, but what it does not realize is that after it has lost the pawn, the loss of the knight is still inevitable. The pawn was merely a temporary decoy. But the program is thinking only four moves ahead and the loss of the knight has been pushed beyond its horizon of search, so it is content. Later on, when the pawn has been lost, it will see once again that the knight is threatened and it will once again try to avoid losing the knight and give up something else. By the time it finally does lose the knighl, il has lost so many other things as well that it wishes it had really given up the piece at the beginning. This often brings about a reeling in the program that can best be described as ‘apathy.’ If a program gets into a position that is, extremely difficult because–it is absolutely bound to lose something, it starts to make moves of an apparently reckless kind. It appears to be saying, ‘Oh, damn you! You’re smashing me off the board. I don’t care anymore. I’m just going to sacrifice all my pieces.’ Actually, the program is fighting as hard as it can to avoid the inevitable.


That sounds very much like The way beginners get obsessed with defending pieces. But it also sounds as though you’re saying that you feel the program has a mood.

David Levy:

Almost. One come to regard these things as being almost human, particularly when you can see that they have understood what you. are doing or you can see they are trying to do something clever; In fact, as with human beings, certain tendencies repeat themselves time and again. For example, there are definite idiosyncrasies of the Northwestern University program that one soon comes to recognize. In a particular variation of the Sicilian defense, white often has a knight on his queen four square and black often has a knight on black’s queen bishop three square. Now, it’s quite well known among stronger players that white does not exchange knights, because black can launch a counterattack along the queen-knight tile. Now, I noticed quite often that when playing against the Sicilian defense, the Northwestern University program- would exchange knights. Its main reason was that this maneuver leads to black having what we call an isolated pawn, which, as a general principle, is a ‘bad thing,’ So the Northwestern University program, when in doubt, used to say, ‘I’ll take his knight. And when he recaptures with the knight’s pawn, he has got an isolated rook’s pawn. Goody.’ What it didn’t realize is that in the Sicilian defense, the. isolated rook’s pawn doesn’t actually matter, but having the majority of pawns in the center for black does. So when I played my first match against CHESS 4.5 in Pittsburgh, on April 1, 1977, I deliberately made an inferior move in the opening, so that the program would no longer be following its opening book and wouldn’t know what to do. I was confident that after I made this inferior move the program would exchange knights., which it did, and this presented me with the sort of position that I wanted.•

Amazing that with all the contact between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin during the election, Wikileaks gathered no information on the subject. Not one iota. Nor was there anything about Mike Flynn’s untoward overseas ties. Perhaps its relying too much on Russian hackers for its information?

WikiLeaks’ modus operandi over the last couple of years probably wouldn’t have been markedly different if it were in the hands of Paul Manfort rather than Julian Assange, so it’s not surprising the organization recently leaked a trove of (apparently overhyped) documents about CIA surveillance just as Trump was being lambasted from both sides of the aisle for baselessly accusing his predecessor for “wiretapping.”

The timing is familiar if you recall that WikiLeaks began releasing Clinton campaign emails directly after the surfacing of a video that recorded Trump’s boasts of sexual assault. With all this recent history, is it any surprise Assange mockingly described himself as a “deplorable when chiding Twitter for refusing verify his account?

Whistleblowers are often a godsend to a society, but not all leakers are born equal.

On the day it was revealed that Sweden has dropped its sexual-assault investigation of Assange (which doesn’t mean he’s innocent), Michael Sontheimer and Jörg Schindler of Spiegel published a Q&A with a man who’s bothersome–or far worse. An excerpt:


You don’t care if WikiLeaks influences the outcome of elections?

Julian Assange:

WikiLeaks is made up of human beings who have different political views. But we cannot undermine our publicly given commitments, our publicly stated principles.


And these principles require that you publish authentic documents as quickly as possible, regardless of who benefits or is damaged?

Julian Assange:

That’s our current policy, which might be changed under extreme circumstances.


What sort of circumstances?

Julian Assange:

If we were on the brink of a nuclear war and a WikiLeaks publication could be misinterpreted, then it would make sense to delay the publication.


You didn’t delay the publication of the material which harmed Clinton.

Julian Assange:

We are not in this business for likes. WikiLeaks publishes documents about powerful organizations. WikiLeaks always will always be the bad boy.


What do you have to say to people who accuse WikiLeaks, among others, of being responsible for Donald Trump’s election as U.S. president?

Julian Assange:

WikiLeaks revealed the dirty tactics of the Clinton campaign. Some voters took it in. It was their free choice to do so. That’s their right. That’s democracy.


As secretary of state, Clinton sought to take action against WikiLeaks. Was the publication of Democratic Party documents a kind of vendetta?

Julian Assange:

That is U.S. East Coast psychobabble. The reason that WikiLeaks follows its principles is because one man has a problem? No! But here is some historic irony behind it. Clinton was involved in putting our alleged source Chelsea Manning in prison. There seems to be some natural justice.


You derived satisfaction from her loss?

Julian Assange:

. . .


You are smiling.•

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“He was a swine of a man and a jabbering dupe of a president,” Hunter S. Thompson wrote in 1994 in an appropriately punishing postmortem of our disgraced 37th President. “Nixon was so crooked,” he continued, “that he needed servants to help him screw his pants on every morning. Even his funeral was illegal. He was queer in the deepest way. His body should have been burned in a trash bin.”

That we’ve found someone who’s far more devious, dishonest and disloyal to occupy the Oval Office is the shame of our time, even if that chastening emotion is in short supply these days. How did we get here?

The reasons are many, but a key architect of this craven and cancerous age was Roger Ailes, a former Nixon media adviser who became Fox News capo, employing unbridled cynicism and vindictiveness to breed a virus that infected the nation, mainstreaming conspiracy theories, alternative facts and bigotry. Was Ailes truly a prejudiced gutter dweller who aimed to divide and destroy our country? Who cares. We are what we pretend to be.

Like Trump, the Worst American™, who’d have been behind bars decades ago in any just society, Ailes would have been swiftly kicked from the corporate suite were it not for the privilege of males with white skin and collars who possess big egos and few morals. That advantage, the decentralization of media and the Reagan Era demolition of the Fairness Doctrine made possible his corrosive career.

Another reason he was tolerated is that success is usually celebrated in America regardless of the means used to attain it.

A fall and a blood clot ended Ailes’ life just months after his Fox reign of terror concluded when a torrent of sexual harassment allegations finally proved too much even for the Murdochs, a ghastly family who enjoy well-appointed lives in penthouses many floors above the despair they create. In a Rolling Stone postmortem, Matt Taibbi chucks Ailes’ remains into a burning Dumpster. His opening:

On the Internet today you will find thousands, perhaps even millions, of people gloating about the death of elephantine Fox News founder Roger Ailes. The happy face emojis are getting a workout on Twitter, which is also bursting with biting one-liners.When I mentioned to one of my relatives that I was writing about the death of Ailes, the response was, “Say that you hope he’s reborn as a woman in Saudi Arabia.”

Ailes has no one but his fast-stiffening self to blame for this treatment. He is on the short list of people most responsible for modern America’s vicious and bloodthirsty character.

We are a hate-filled, paranoid, untrusting, book-dumb and bilious people whose chief source of recreation is slinging insults and threats at each other online, and we’re that way in large part because of the hyper-divisive media environment he discovered.

Ailes was the Christopher Columbus of hate. When the former daytime TV executive and political strategist looked across the American continent, he saw money laying around in giant piles. He knew all that was needed to pick it up was a) the total abandonment of any sense of decency or civic duty in the news business, and b) the factory-like production of news stories that spoke to Americans’ worst fantasies about each other.

Like many con artists, he reflexively targeted the elderly – “I created a TV network for people from 55 to dead,” he told Joan Walsh – where he saw billions could be made mining terrifying storylines about the collapse of the simpler America such viewers remembered, correctly or (more often) incorrectly, from their childhoods.

In this sense, his Fox News broadcasts were just extended versions of the old “ring around the collar” ad – scare stories about contagion. Wisk was pitched as the cure for sweat stains creeping onto your crisp white collar; Fox was sold as the cure for atheists, feminists, terrorists and minorities crawling over your white picket fence.•


A really intelligent, though perhaps not tech-sector savvy, friend recently insisted that Google is just a company that sells ads. People who work there, I was told, shouldn’t think they’re doing anything important.

Well, no.

The Larry Page-Sergey Brin Silicon Valley megapower was born as an Artificial Intelligence company, one that just so happens to collect information online that helps it with dual goals of, yes, making money from ads today, but also in building the smart tools of tomorrow that can make an impact exponentially beyond savvy search results. To that end, the X division is an attempt at a latter-day Bell Labs, a highly ambitious division dedicated to moonshots, though one that isn’t working in concert with Washington D.C. as its predecessor did.

As I’ve said in the past, if Google is mainly a search engine in the future, the company has failed and will decline into its dotage, if, likely, a still highly profitable one. It’s also fair to say that if the company succeeds, it will probably be a mixed blessing for society, yielding improvements that come at a cost that may be dear. That’s because Google’s far-flung ambitions are similar to its more-mundane ones in that they rely on surveilling us and pulling information from our brains. Eventually, you’ll have the implant.

Next-level research is also being earnestly conducted by Musk, Bezos, Zuckerberg and other titans of the Information Age. Absent from that list is the U.S. federal government, that lumbering giant which now during the Trump Administration is more inept and dysfunctional than at any point in modern history–maybe in our entire history. That failing of the public sphere, which isn’t adequately investing in AI research, leaves us in a prone position before tech behemoths that will have to increase their profits while building our future.

The opening of Farhad Manjoo’s perceptive New York Times column on the government ceding AI to Silicon Valley:

One persistent criticism of Silicon Valley is that it no longer works on big, world-changing ideas. Every few months, a dumb start-up will make the news — most recently the one selling a $700 juicer — and folks outside the tech industry will begin singing I-told-you-sos.

But don’t be fooled by expensive juice. The idea that Silicon Valley no longer funds big things isn’t just wrong, but also obtuse and fairly dangerous. Look at the cars, the rockets, the internet-beaming balloons and gliders, the voice assistants, drones, augmented and virtual reality devices, and every permutation of artificial intelligence you’ve ever encountered in sci-fi. Technology companies aren’t just funding big things — they are funding the biggest, most world-changing things. They are spending on ideas that, years from now, we may come to see as having altered life for much of the planet.

At the same time, the American government’s appetite for funding big things — for scientific research and out-of-this-world technology and infrastructure programs — keeps falling, and it may decline further under President Trump.

This sets up a looming complication: Technology giants, not the government, are building the artificially intelligent future. And unless the government vastly increases how much it spends on research into such technologies, it is the corporations that will decide how to deploy them.•


From the June 5, 1888 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Republicans are still mostly resisting a real investigation of possible Trump collusion with Russia and his obstruction of justice in regards to the Comey firing. Some lip service, some mild gestures, that’s all thus far. 

Chief among these defiant defenders is Paul Ryan, who’s quoted today in Politico as saying “some people want to harm the President.” His odd stance could stem from reflexive partisanship and the Speaker’s long-held desire to pass at any cost his punitive tax and social welfare cuts. Perhaps he believes a Trump resignation or impeachment would put those plans in peril.

We have to at least consider that it could be something even darker. Ryan may believe Mike Pence is likely to be swept away in this same scenario, leaving him, third in line, as the new President. He might not want any part of what would be an office made untenable by such a large-scale scandal. Even worse, it’s possible the Russian connection runs deeper than we know and may pull under a large number of GOP elected officials. 

Regardless of the cause, the party appears to be in a death spiral and is threatening to feed the entire nation a poison pill. What may save us is that despite any desperate machinations from the White House or Hill, the truth is likely to ultimately be exposed.

From Edward Luce’s latest Financial Times column, which asserts that tax cuts is a ridiculous reason for Republican self-immolation:

Whenever the elites express outrage at his actions, his supporters take pleasure in their anguish. Mr Trump knows how to cater to his base. If that means passing secrets to the Russians the day after firing the man investigating his campaign’s alleged Russia collusion, all the better. Scholars call this “negative partisanship”. People no longer join a party because they believe in its agenda but because they despise the other one. By mocking his opponents, Mr Trump is literally delivering on what he promised. It is a mandate for nihilism.

This poses a terrible dilemma for Republicans. Some are hoping to bide their time until midterm elections. Mr Trump’s approval ratings are so low that if the polls were held today Republicans would lose control of the House of Representatives, and possibly the Senate. At that point, Republicans would start to abandon Mr Trump’s ship. Democrats may well campaign on a promise to impeach Mr Trump. But that is almost 18 months away. Other Republicans are hoping to extract what they can before the Titanic starts to sink.

Most, such as Paul Ryan, the House Speaker, are prepared to suffer the indignity of working with Mr Trump if it gives them the chance to pass a big tax cut. In Mr Ryan’s view, such a cut would unleash America’s animal spirits and restore freedom to individuals.

It is a coherent position. But Mr Trump keeps making it harder for Mr Ryan to build the case for it. The chances are now at least as good that the firestorm around Mr Trump will engulf his economic agenda. Even if Mr Ryan can pull off tax reform, would the bargain have been worth it? The answer is no. Taxes rise and fall. But a great party cannot erase how it acted at a critical moment in the history of the republic.•

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In his latest Medium piece, Matt Chessen writes about a near-term scenario in which machine-driven communications (MADCOMS), essentially indistinguishable from human communications, will dominate social media with the aid of AI, influencing the thoughts of all those carbon beings who come into contact with it. Extrapolating this brave new world a little further, he envisions different political and cultural factions waging wars for hearts and minds via an onslaught of machine-based messaging. It will be, perhaps, like the elections of 2016 to the nth degree.

God help us all. 

Unlike other technological innovations, which usually are a mix of boon and bane, it’s hard to see much good being delivered by such a framework. The downside, of course, is enormous.

Chessen knows his vision of tomorrow is incredibly fraught, asking: “Will this be the new Renaissance, or the next Inquisition?” Almost definitely, a realization of his prediction will provoke the latter.

The opening:

We’re on the verge of a revolution — very soon, computers are going to start programming us, through ideas, culture, and eventually, our DNA.

We may have no idea this is happening to us.

To understand this, you really should start with the article “Artificial intelligence chatbots will overwhelm human speech online; the rise of MADCOMs.” There, I explain how emerging AI technologies will enable machine-driven communication tools (MADCOMs) that dynamically generate content for marketing, influence, politics, and manipulation. These MADCOMs will be running influence campaigns 24/7/365 all across the social web. But since the MADCOMs won’t be able to differentiate the human accounts from the machine-driven accounts, MADCOMs will run information ops on machines and people. The machines will talk back and run their own influence campaigns. The end result is the Internet being swamped by machines talking to other machines.

Much of this content will be dynamically generated. Sure, humans will configure the AI tools and give them objectives, but their content will evolve based on machine learning. And as they communicate and influence other machine-driven accounts, the MADCOMs behind them will evolve their content as well.

The end result could be machines becoming the driving force in our culture.

AIs are already creating news articles, novels, music and screenplays. Soon they will create memes, write jokes, drive political conversations, and promote celebrities. They will probably be jabbering away on Reddit and 4Chan, trying to convince humans that Coke is the real thing or that 9/11 was a coverup. They will be spinning all sorts of wild tales.

And in doing so, our creations will be programming us, through culture.•


Despite the robot apocalypse we’ve been promised, statistics don’t show an increase in productivity or decrease in employment. Many of the jobs recently created have been lesser ones, but even wages have shown some rise at times over the last year. Perhaps the decline of the American middle class over the last 50 years has been largely a political result rather than a technological one? It would be tough to convince people living in former manufacturing strongholds, but it may be so.

Three possible reasons the numbers don’t reveal a coming widespread technological unemployment:

  1. The numbers aren’t able to accurately capture the new automated economy. Doubtful.
  2. Automation may be overhyped for the moment the way computers or the Internet or smartphones originally were, but soon enough it will make a dent on society that will be felt deeply. Possible.
  3. The impact of automation will be gradual and manageable, improving society while not creating what Yuval Harari indelicately describes as a “useless class.” Possible.

In a Rough Type post, Nicholas Carr thinks machines may be depressing wages but have otherwise been overstated. An excerpt:

I’m convinced that computer automation is changing the way people work, often in profound ways, and I think it’s likely that automation is playing an important role in restraining wage growth by, among other things, deskilling certain occupations and reducing the bargaining power of workers. But the argument that computers are going to bring extreme unemployment in coming decades — an argument that was also popular in both the 1950s and the 1990s, it’s worth remembering — sounds increasingly dubious. It runs counter to the facts. Anyone making the argument today needs to provide a lucid and rational explanation of why, despite years of rapid advances in robotics, computer power, network connectivity, and artificial intelligence techniques, we have yet to see any sign of a broad loss of jobs in the economy.•


Trump is certainly not Nixonian in intellect or policy, but he shares with his predecessor an utter disregard for truth, a deep paranoia that mints enemies like pennies and a nefariousness that will probably lead to disgrace if not tragedy. His sense of being cheated, a rich man who feels deeply impoverished, has its origins in a Rosebud-ian psychological wound and perhaps some mental illness, has rendered him extremely immoral and deeply disturbed. In the country’s future–should there be one–it will be possible to have a worse President if that person retains all his terrible qualities but is basically competent. We should be glad of his ineptitude, provided it doesn’t get us all killed.

On the day when the Washington Post delivered what appears to be a bombshell about a terrible breach by Trump in the company of his Russian comrades, a misstep to be added to his litany of lies, acts of kleptocracy and attacks on American democracy, here’s a piece from Garry Willis’ 1974 New York Review of Books piece about Woodward and Bernstein’s All the President’s Men:

Nixon was always Wronged; so, since the score could never be settled entirely, he felt no qualms about getting back what slight advantage he could when no one was looking. Even at the height of his power, he feels he must steal one extra vote, tell the marginal little lie. He is like a man who had to steal as a child, in order to eat, and acquired a sacred license—even a duty—to steal thenceforth; it would punish the evil that had first deprived him. Thus he took as his intimate into the Oval Office the very man who helped him try to cheat his way into the office of governor of California. Those who say Nixon did not know what kind of thing his lieutenants were up to forget that the judge who decreed in favor of plaintiffs in the fake postcard-poll case of 1962 did so on the grounds that both Haldeman and Nixon knew about the illegal tactic. Watergate is the story of a man who has just pulled off a million-dollar heist and gets caught when he hesitates to steal an apple off a passing vendor’s cart.

Nixon engages in a kind of antipolitics; a punishment of politics for what it has done to him. That is why he could never understand “the other side” in the Washington Post’s coverage of the Watergate investigation. Jeb Magruder has written that his staff was pleased when two unknown local reporters, Bernstein and Woodward, were given the break-in as their assignment. When the story did not lapse after a decent interval, Nixon conceived it as an ideological vendetta directed by Katharine Graham for the benefit of George McGovern—something to be countered by high-level threats, intimidation, and “stonewalling.” Even Henry Kissinger tried to intervene with Mrs. Graham.

Actually, if the coverage had been political, it might have failed. Very few columns or editorials played up Watergate in the election period, even at the Post. Those wanting high political sources and theoretical patterns would not have found the sneaky little paths under out-of-the-way bushes, as Woodward and Bernstein did. They thought, from the outset, they were dealing with robbers, not politicians. When their tips kept leading them toward the White House; they balked repeatedly, out of awe and fear and common sense; but the evidence kept tugging them against the pull of expectation. The editors kept them at it, but gave them little help. They must pursue their modest leads even after they wanted to be switched to “the big story” at the Ervin hearings. Others would theorize, editorialize, do the White House circuit. Theirs was the leg work, the endless doors knocked on, wrong numbers called, the days of thirty leads checked out and nothing to show for it. A leitmotiv of the book is “back to square one.”

They advanced, as it were, backward—always back to the same sources; would they talk this time? No. Then put them on the list of people to go back to. Back and back. Which became up and up. Up, scarily at the last, “to the very top” (as the Justice Department man had put it). Their sources—originally secretaries and minor functionaries—were added to when parts of the gang like Dean started dealing to get out; but there had always been people who talked because they were sincerely shaken by what was going on—not only Hugh Sloan at the outset, but the mysterious White House cooperator called “Deep Throat.” It is good to know the gang could not entirely succeed in imposing its code of omertà.•

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The Singularitarians’ time frames are largely risible, but attention should be paid to their goals. What they suggest is often only a furthering what we already have. Looking at their predictions for tomorrow can tell us something about today.

For better or worse, humans are more united by technology than they ever have been before, and for some this is merely prelude. A new Futurism article looks at Peter Diamandis’ dream of “meta-intelligence,” which would require far more radical person-to-person connectedness as well as humans being tethered brain to cloud. His overly ambitious ETA may prove false, but paramount concerns about such an arrangement go far beyond hacking and privacy. Marshall McLuhan dreaded the Global Village he predicted, believing it could be our downfall.

Gary Wolf wrote in Wired in 1996:

McLuhan did not want to live in the global village. The prospect frightened him. Print culture had produced rational man, in whom vision was the dominant sense. Print man lived in a world that was secular rather than sacred, specialized rather than holistic.

But when information travels at electronic speeds, the linear clarity of the print age is replaced by a feeling of “all-at-onceness.” Everything everywhere happens simultaneously. There is no clear order or sequence. This sudden collapse of space into a single unified field ‘dethrones the visual sense.’ This is what the global village means: we are all within reach of a single voice or the sound of tribal drums. For McLuhan, this future held a profound risk of mass terror and sudden panic.•

Print has certainly been eclipsed, and the Internet and its social media have presented specific outsize problems even a visionary could never have seen coming. These tools can help topple regimes, and all the closeness has allowed those with good or evil intentions to pool their resources and mobilize.

Garry Kasparov is relatively hopeful about what this new normal means for us, but would his arch-nemesis Vladimir Putin have been able to effect the U.S. election without the wires that now run through us all? We have to accept at least the possibility that a highly technological society will be an endlessly chaotic one.

From Futurism:


Diamandis outlines the next stages of humanity’s evolution in four steps, each a parallel to his four evolutionary stages of life on Earth. There are four driving forces behind this evolution: our interconnected or wired world, the emergence of brain-computer interface (BCI), the emergence of artificial intelligence (AI), and man reaching for the final frontier of space.

In the next 30 years, humanity will move from the first stage—where we are today—to the fourth stage. From simple humans dependent on one another, humanity will incorporate technology into our bodies to allow for more efficient use of information and energy. This is already happening today.

The third stage is a crucial point.

Enabled with BCI and AI, humans will become massively connected with each other and billions of AIs (computers) via the cloud, analogous to the first multicellular lifeforms 1.5 billion years ago. Such a massive interconnection will lead to the emergence of a new global consciousness, and a new organism I call the Meta-Intelligence.•

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Parallel to the Trump crisis is the only slightly quieter one currently playing out. With the GOP controlling all three branches of the government, the fraying social safety barely keeping struggling Americans from dropping dead may be sliced to bits.

While the House and Senate Republicans are either too craven, complicit or worse to neutralize Trump’s threat to democracy, the GOP is willfully attempting to exacerbate wealth inequality. Even in a deeply dysfunctional party, Paul Ryan’s monstrous Ayn Rand fantasy of cruelly punishing the poor may come to fruition. This could be the moment when the gloves come off, the shit hits the fan, the games begin. 

How do we peacefully extricate ourselves from this disaster that’s been decades in the making? It won’t be easy. A raft of indictments bringing the moneyed interests of D.C. to its knees is possible but maybe just a liberal fantasy. Perhaps protests and marches can save the day, though not if they’re ignored. 

At some point the people will tire of bread and Kardashians and decide to cancel the show. 

The thing is, such a lashing out would likely be factional and confused, an awful tragedy. As Keith Mines recently wrote: “It is like 1859, everyone is mad about something and everyone has a gun.”

Two excerpts follow.

From Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan’s excellent Washington Post piece about Americans unable to afford basic dentistry:

Millions of others rely on charity clinics and hospital emergency rooms to treat painful and neglected teeth. Unable to afford expensive root canals and crowns, many simply have them pulled. Nearly 1 in 5 Americans older than 65 do not have a single real tooth left.

Over two days at the civic center, volunteer dentists would pull 795 teeth. A remarkable number of patients held steady jobs — a forklift operator, a librarian, a postal worker — but said they had no dental insurance and not enough cash to pay for a dentist.

[Dee] Matello had both problems, adding to her frustration about being cut off from a world that many wealthier Americans take for granted.

“The country is way too divided between well-off people and people struggling for everything — even to see the dentist,” she said. “And the worst part is, I don’t see a bridge to cross over to be one of those rich people.”

Matello voted for Barack Obama in 2008, thinking he offered the best option for working people, but she sat out the 2012 election. Last year, she rallied behind Trump after listening to him talk about “the forgotten men and women of our country, people who work hard but don’t have a voice.”

“I’m running to be their voice,” Trump said repeatedly.

What Matello heard was a promise “to restore pride to the working poor.”

A big part of that promise was Trump’s assurance that he would build a “beautiful” health-care system to serve every American, a system that would cost less and do more. But nearly four months into Trump’s presidency, Matello sees Trump backing a Republican health care plan that appears to leave low-income people and the elderly worse off.

“I am hearing about a number of people who will lose their coverage under the new plan,” Matello said. “Is Trump the wolf in grandma’s clothes? My husband and I are are now saying to each other: ‘Did we really vote for him?’ ”

From a Politico article by Rachel Bade and Sarah Ferris about the GOP’s draconian dreams:

House Republicans just voted to slash hundreds of billions of dollars in health care for the poor as part of their Obamacare replacement. Now, they’re weighing a plan to take the scalpel to programs that provide meals to needy kids and housing and education assistance for low-income families.

President Donald Trump’s refusal to overhaul Social Security and Medicare — and his pricey wish-list for infrastructure, a border wall and tax cuts — is sending House budget writers scouring for pennies in politically sensitive places: safety-net programs for the most vulnerable. 

Under enormous internal pressure to quickly balance the budget, Republicans are considering slashing more than $400 billion in spending through a process to evade Democratic filibusters in the Senate, multiple sources told POLITICO.

The proposal, which would be part of the House Budget Committee’s fiscal 2018 budget, won’t specify which programs would get the ax; instead it will instruct committees to figure out what to cut to reach the savings. But among the programs most likely on the chopping block, the sources say, are food stamps, welfare, income assistance for the disabled and perhaps even veterans benefits.

If enacted, such a plan to curb safety-net programs — all while juicing the Pentagon’s budget and slicing corporate tax rates — would amount to the biggest shift in federal spending priorities in decades.

Atop that, GOP budget writers will also likely include Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) proposal to essentially privatize Medicare in their fiscal 2018 budget, despite Trump’s unwavering rejection of the idea. While that proposal is more symbolic and won’t become law under this budget, it’s just another thorny issue that will have Democrats again accusing Republicans of “pushing Granny off the cliff.”•

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From the December 13, 1936 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

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10 search-engine keyphrases bringing traffic to Afflictor this week:

  1. nassim nicholas taleb on trump
  2. trump dictator chic
  3. trump american mussolini
  4. toscanini fascist italy
  5. will we have another civil war?
  6. breitbart and julius evola
  7. malcolm gladwell alec baldwin
  8. opioid epidemic clermont county ohio
  9. tim berners-lee fixing the internet
  10. yann lecun machines with common sense

Vlad, this is Don. I made Comey disappear like Richard Simmons, so my troubles are over, right?

No, all these calls are being intercepted. You will still hang. So will that despised despot you love so much.

You mean you or Rodrigo Duterte?

No, the other one.


• The GOP’s odd Trump support may be partisanship. Could be something worse.

Zeynep Tufekci writes of the failings of the press during this desperate time.

Garry Kasparov talks technology, chess, Russia and more with Tyler Cowen.

 Yuval Harari imagines what will become of the post-work “useless class.”

• The ransomware attack reminds that a computerized world is a fraught one.

Michael Bess believes the ETA for profound bioenhancement is 2050.

The driverless future may leave Uber and Lyft on the side of the road.

• Old Print Article: Cranks and criminals that worry the wealthy. (1905)

• A brief note from 1949 about Il Duce’s stolen loot.

• This week’s Afflictor keyphrase searches: Caroline Cushing Graham, etc.

As we build a society that resembles a machine, we can’t assume it will be one of loving grace.

I don’t subscribe to John Markoff’s idea that we can coolly decide the path forward. These decisions will be made in the heat of battle–state versus state, corporation versus corporation. Nor am I completely deterministic about the outcome. Miracles will intermingle with malice, and constant attention and intervention will be required to mitigate the latter. 

As today’s widespread, pernicious ransomware attack of European and Asian countries the globe reminds, a world in which everything is a computer–even our brains–is a fraught one.

The opening of a New York Times article by Dan Bilefsky and Nicole Perlroth:

LONDON — An extensive cyberattack struck computers across a wide swath of Europe and Asia on Friday, and strained the public health system in Britain, where doctors were blocked from patient files and emergency rooms were forced to divert patients.

The attack involved ransomware, a kind of malware that encrypts data and locks out the user. According to security experts, it exploited a vulnerability that was discovered and developed by the National Security Agency.

The hacking tool was leaked by a group calling itself the Shadow Brokers, which has been dumping stolen N.S.A. hacking tools online beginning last year. Microsoft rolled out a patch for the vulnerability last March, but hackers took advantage of the fact that vulnerable targets — particularly hospitals — had yet to update their systems.

The malware was circulated by email; targets were sent an encrypted, compressed file that, once loaded, allowed the ransomware to infiltrate its targets.

By then, it was already too late. As the disruptions rippled through hospitals, doctors’ offices and ambulance companies across Britain on Friday, the health service declared the attack as a “major incident,” a warning that local health services could be overwhelmed by patients.•

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The New York Times, the Washington Post and the rest of what remains of the high-wattage mainstream news organizations have done a fairly good job during these dark hours of untangling White House drama in its aftermath (with some glaring exceptions, of course), but they’ve thus far failed in the most fundamental way.

None of these outlets to this point have proven to possess good sources in regards to Russiagate, which is what we desperately require now. “Credible media” is too focused on parsing “official statements,” reacting to surface outrages and ladling out punditry, the latter of which is far cheaper content to produce than painstakingly crafted reportage. That’s a fault of the press but also the reality of the shocking media shift we’ve experienced over the last 20 years, as we’ve moved into the Digital Age, which has caused enough belt tightening to crack a hip. Well-staffed overseas bureaus with connections to European Intelligence might have come in handy right about now.

Without the ability to dig beneath the surface, and those muscles seem to have atrophied across the board, a news org. can be useful and instructive and entertaining, but it can’t be essential. An individual with some deep sources and a Twitter account is just as likely to deliver what’s most needed.

A really smart entry from the Politico piece “What the Press Still Doesn’t Get About Trump“:

9. The media’s priorities are all wrong.

Zeynep Tufekci, associate professor at the University of North Carolina School of Information and Library Science and author of the forthcoming Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest.

The press faced a range of structural weaknesses that led to its failures before the 2016 election. These weaknesses are persisting—albeit with slightly better optics because journalists face a more adversarial administration, which creates a misleading illusion of improvement.

The problem is both structural and ethical. For starters, media are clustered, and prone to herding. Not only did this cause them to underestimate Trump’s election chances, but they continue to miss the dynamics of polarization in this country, and what that means for politics. Pundits and many journalists also remain attracted to horse-race stories that resemble fiction (stumble in the second act! comeback in the third act!), which causes them to miss real dynamics because they are too busy fitting their reporting into interesting narrative structures. This also does a disservice to journalists’ remaining essential role: telling the rest of us about important questions of policy and substance that we cannot easily access, investigate or absorb on our own.

What’s more, many journalists still practice “access journalism”—which is futile. Thanks to social media and partisan cable channels, politicians now easily have their own access to audiences. The old style of access journalism often amounts to little more than reporters being subjected to spin by the insiders. But even after the election, process and inside-the-White House stories continue to interest journalists (and a large section of the so-called chattering classes) disproportionate to those stories’ political or policy importance.

Structurally, the digitally led decoupling of individual stories from newspapers has meant that solid investigative work is no longer financed by ads and gossipy punditry. But gossipy punditry and contrarianism can still bring clicks—the way sugary soda sells. So they persist, and the whole news ecology is further degraded, despite the fact that there are many really good investigative journalists out there. Finally, media are still getting played by outlets like WikiLeaks that simply prey on journalists’ weaknesses—being prone to gossip; not understanding technical stuff; prizing “copy” at regular intervals so they can’t take their eyes off drip-drip-drip leaks to figure out what’s going on.

One bright spot in all this is that subscriptions are rising: That may allow media outlets some independence, but improvements will likely come only if subscribers match their money with a demand that the media reckon with their profound and historic failure in 2016.


Intelligent doesn’t necessarily mean good, in humans or machines.

I doubt I’ve come across any public figure who’s read more books than Tyler Cowen, yet in the country’s darkest hour, he’s pulled his punches with his fellow Libertarian Peter Thiel, who’s behaved abysmally, dangerously, in his ardent Trump support. The Administration, a gutter-level racist group, has apparently allowed Russian espionage to snake its way into the U.S. and is working in earnest to undo American democracy, to put itself beyond the reach of the law. Those who’ve gone easy on its enablers are complicit.

Maybe the machines will behave more morally than us when they’ve turned away from our lessons to teach themselves? Maybe less so?

· · · 

The pro-seasteading economist just interviewed Garry Kasparov, whose new book, Deep Thinking, I’m currently reading. Likely history’s greatest chess player, the Russian was turned deep blue by IBM during the interval between Cold Wars, when he could conjure no defense for the brute force of his algorithmically advantaged opponent.

Initially, Kasparov was too skeptical, too weighed down by human ego, to fully appreciate the powers of computers, but sometimes those who’ve most fiercely resisted religion become the most ardent believers, redirecting their fervent denial into a passionate embrace. That’s where Kasparov seems to be now in his unbridled appreciation for what machines will soon do for us, though I can comment more once I’ve completed his book.

He’s certainly right that much of what will happen with AI over the course of this century is inevitable given the way technologies evolve and the nature of human psychology. With those developments, we’ll enjoy many benefits, but with all progress comes regress, a situation heightened as the tools become more powerful. It’s clear to me that we’re not merely building machines to aid us but permanently placing ourselves inside of one with no OFF switch.

An excerpt:

Tyler Cowen:

A lot of humans don’t play chess, but we’re looking at a future where AI will make decisions about who gets a monetary loan, who is diagnosed as being schizophrenic or bipolar. How cars drive on the road increasingly is controlled by software.

The fact that the decisions of the software are not so transparent — and you see this also in computer chess — how will ordinary human beings respond to the fact that more and more of their lives will be “controlled” by these nontransparent processes that are too smart for them to understand? Because in your book, you have emotional conflict with Deep Blue, right?

Garry Kasparov:

Exactly. I’m telling you that it’s inevitable. There are certain things that are happening, and it’s called progress. This is the history of human civilization. The whole history is a steady process of replacing all forms of labor by machines. It started with machines replacing farm animals and then manual laborers, and it kept growing and growing and growing.

There was a time I mentioned in the book, people didn’t trust elevators without operators. They thought it would be too dangerous. It took a major strike in the city of New York that was equal a major disaster. You had to climb the Empire State Building with paralyzed elevators.

I understand that today, people are concerned about self-driving cars, absolutely. But now let us imagine that there was a time, I’m sure, people were really concerned, they were scared stiff of autopilots. Now, I think if you tell them that autopilot’s not working in the plane, they will not fly because they understand that, in the big numbers, these decisions are still more qualitative.

While I understand also the fear of people who might be losing jobs, and they could see that machines are threatening their traditional livelihood, but at the same time, even these people whose jobs are on chopping block of automation, they also depend on the new wave of technology to generate economic growth and to create sustainable new jobs.

This is a cycle. The only difference with what we have been seeing throughout human history is that now, machines are coming after people with college degrees, political influence, and Twitter accounts.•

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Since Trump is a strange, Twitter-enabled Nixon, might today’s Woodwards and Bernsteins will be equally strange and Twitter-enabled?

I ask because the MSM has done an uneven job in dealing with what’s gone on in the open with the Trump Administration, while failing to make any headway in regards to its possible treasonous acts. Sure, there’s a chance there’s nothing to be seen there, but that possibility grows slimmer seemingly daily. Judy Woodruff telling her PBS NewsHour staff that “they would cover this President just as they would any other” does not reassure, because this is not the same old. This is an emergency.

The dismissal of FBI Director James Comey, deep into an investigation of Russian collusion and requesting more money to further the probe, is particularly stunning. Despite what’s gone over the last year, Comey was likely our best hope for finding out what lies beneath.

The firing has led Matt Yglesias to suggest that Trump may have committed an impeachable offense in th form of obstruction of justice. The Vox writer is as smart as can be, but he maintains that if the GOP Congress doesn’t allow an independent investigation, it’s because of partisanship or dysfunction. I think it’s fair at this point to consider that it may be something far more sinister. 

In the piece, Yglesias references evidence published by “credible journalists in credible publications,” but these are incredible times. The answers may be in the margins.

An excerpt:


The key leaders of the Republican Party are, once again, protecting and defending Donald Trump. And once again, there is a small thread of dissent, with various more vulnerable members of Congress suggesting that they find the timing suspicious or otherwise troubling. John McCain is even back to making trouble about the need for a more serious independent inquiry into Russia matters.

But while the Russia matter is, of course, important, at this point, to simply focus on Russia is to miss the elephant in the room: Trump and obstruction of justice.

Congress ought to investigate what really happened here. Did Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein really write a memo about Comey’s handling of the emails that was so persuasive it convinced Sessions and Trump to both change their minds and fire Comey? Or, as seems much more plausible, was he tasked with writing up a memo that would validate an already-made decision on the theory that if the Trump administration aligned themselves with earlier Democratic criticism of Comey, they would be unable to knock him for the firing?

And if so, what was the real reason Comey was fired — and how did it relate to the president’s anger over the Russia investigation and its forward progress?

The odds that a Congress under continued GOP control will pursue such questions seem slim. During the 2016 presidential campaign, few Republicans in Congress were under the delusion that Trump’s rise to prominence was a good thing for the conservative movement. They worried, overwhelmingly, that his erratic ways were going to drag them down with him.

Ever since Election Day, they have operated in a strange moral and intellectual miasma that’s led them to forget all that and invest their energy in defending him, believing that to be the best path forward for American conservatism. One can only hope at this point that they’ll reconsider before it’s too late. If not, America is going to need a different group of Congress members.•

From the September 7, 1949 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

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Of the many consequences, intended and not, of driverless cars, the fate of Uber is one of the least important unless you happen to be an investor in the rideshare company or an interested party hoping to see Travis Kalanick’s oft-irresponsible outfit get driven from the road. More vital will be the disappearance of millions of jobs, the saving of that many lives over time, the impact on the environment, etc.

Still, it’s a fascinating business story. Uber’s massive disruption of the taxi industry may be soon viewed as a staggering, though short-lived, victory, much the way CDs wrecked the market for LPs and cassettes, before being quickly usurped by a better technology.  

When autonomous cars do become a going concern, eventually there won’t be any need for a middle man, and, perhaps, ownership of any kind. The fleets will drive themselves in all senses.

Two new excerpts on the topic are followed by a piece from a retro 1969 National Geographic feature.

From a Forbes article by Chunka Mui about Google driverless guru Chris Urmson’s predictions for the sector:

To the inevitable question of “when,” Urmson is very optimistic. He predicts that self-driving car services will be available in certain communities within the next five years.

You won’t get them everywhere. You certainly not going to get them in incredibly challenging weather or incredibly challenging cultural regions. But, you’ll see neighborhoods and communities where you’ll be able to call a car, get in it, and it will take you where you want to go.

(Based on recent Waymo announcements, Phoenix seems a likely candidate.)

Then, over the next 20 years, Urmson believes we’ll see a large portion of the transportation infrastructure move over to automation.

Urmson concluded his presentation by calling it an exciting time for roboticists. “It’s a pretty damn good time to be alive. We’re seeing fundamental transformations to the structure of labor and the structure transportation. To be a part of that and have a chance to be involved in it is exciting.”•

The opening of Christopher Mims’ smart WSJ piece about the potential fall of Uber:

If Uber Technologies Inc. ever collapses, historians may trace its undoing not to its troubles with labor relations, intellectual property, regulatory conflicts or sexual-harassment allegations, but to technological disruption.

This would be the same technological disruption the company itself pledged to use to upend the auto industry and the $2 trillion a year tied to it.

Less than a year ago, Uber Chief Executive Travis Kalanick described self-driving cars as an “existential” threat to his company, saying that his team must get the technology to market before competitors do, or at least at around the same time. Self-driving vehicles would ultimately be much cheaper to operate than ones requiring human drivers—robots work tirelessly and don’t demand raises. The first companies to roll out fleets of automated taxis could quickly drive their human-powered competition into oblivion.

Uber’s philosophy, both internally and in its pitch to consumers, is that it’s a hassle to own a car. The irony is, for the pay-by-the-ride future of transportation to be realized, someone has to own a lot of cars. Chances are, it won’t be Uber.•

Three months before we reached the moon, a moment when machines eclipsed, in a meaningful way, the primacy of humanity, National Geographic published the 1969 feature “The Coming Revolution in Transportation,” penned by Frederic C. Appel and Dean Conger. The article prognosticated some wildly fantastical misses as any such futuristic article would, but it broadly envisioned the next stage of travel as autonomous and, perhaps, electric.

The two excerpts I’ve included below argue that tomorrow’s transportation would in, one fashion or another, remove human hands from the wheel. The second passage particularly relates to the driverless sector of today. Interesting that we’re skipping the top-down step of building “computer-controlled” or “automated” highways, something suggested as necessary in this piece, as an intensive infrastructure overhaul never materialized. We’re attempting instead to rely on visual-recognition systems and an informal swarm of gadgets linked to the cloud to circumvent what was once considered foundational.

· · ·

“People Capsule”: Dial Your Destination

Everywhere I found signs that a revolution in transportation is on the way. 

The automobile you drive today could probably move at 100 miles an hour. But you average closer to 10 as you travel our clogged city streets.

Someday, perhaps in your lifetime, it could be like this….

You ride toward the city at 90 miles an hour, glancing through the morning newspaper while your electrically powered car follows its route on the automated “guideway.”

You leave your car at the city’s edge–a parklike city without streets–and enter on the small plastic “people capsules” waiting nearby. Inside, you dial your destination on a sequence of numbered buttons. Then you settle back to reading your paper. 

Smoothly, silently, your capsule accelerates to 80 miles an hour. Guided by a distant master computer, it slips down into the network of tunnels under the city–or into tubes suspended above it–and takes precisely the fastest route to your destination.

Far-fetched? Not at all. Every element of that fantastic people-moving system is already within range of our scientists’ skills.

· · ·

Car-trunk Computer Issues Orders

Consider automated cars–and when you do, look at the modern automobile. Think of the rapid increase, in the past decade, of electric servomechanisms on automobiles. Power steering, antiskid power brakes, adjustable seats, automatic door locks, automatic headlight dimmers, electronic speed governors, self-regulated air conditioning.

Detroit designers, already preparing for the day your vehicle will drive itself, are getting practical experience with the automatic devices on today’s cars. When more electric devices are added and the first computer-controlled highways are built, the era of the automated car will be here.

At the General Motors Technical Center near Detroit, I drove a remarkable vehicle. It was the Unicontrol Car, one step along the way to the automated family sedan.

In the car a small knob next to the seat (some models have dual knobs) replaced steering wheel, gearshift lever, accelerator and brake pedal.

Moving that knob, I learned, sends electronic impulses back to a sort of “baby computer” in the car’s trunk. The computer translates those signals into action by activating the proper servomechanism–steering motor, power brakes, or accelerator.

Highways May Take Over the Driving

Simple and ingenious, I thought, as I slid into the driver’s seat. Gingerly I pushed the knob forward. Somewhere, unseen little robots released the brake and stepped on the gas.

So far, so good. Now I twitched the knob to the left–and very nearly made a 35-mile-an-hour U-turn!

But after a few minutes of practice, I found that the strange control method really did feel comfortably logical. I ended my half-hour test drive with a smooth stop in front of a Tech Center office building and headed upstairs to call on Dr. Lawrence R. Hafstad, GM’s Vice President in Charge of Research Laboratories. 

The Unicontrol Car–a research vehicle built to test new servomechanisms–is easy to drive. Still, it does have to be driven. I asked Dr. Hafstad about the proposed automated highways that would relieve the driver of all responsibilities except that of choosing a destination.

“Automated highways–engineers call them guideways–are technically feasible today,’ Dr. Hafstad answered. “In fact, General Motors successfully demonstrated an electronically controlled guidance system about ten years ago. A wire was embedded in the road, and two pickup coils were installed at the front of the car to sense its position in relation to that wire. The coils sent electrical signals to the steering system, to keep the vehicle automatically on course.

“More recently, we tested a system that also controlled spacing and detected obstacles. It could slow down an overtaking vehicle–even stop it, until the road was clear!”

Other companies are also experimenting with guideways. In some systems, the car’s power comes from an electronic transmission line built into the road. In others, vehicles would simply be carried on a high-speed conveyor, or perhaps in a container. Computerized guidance systems vary, too. 

“Before the first mile of automated highway is installed,” Dr. Hafstad pointed out, “everyone will have to agree on just which system is to be used.”• 

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