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In yesterday’s post about Charlie Rose interviewing a fellow robot, I argued that the humanoid form we envision when we consider AI is a distraction from the actual creeping effects of the technology, which has remarkably powerful potential for boon and bane. Like electricity, it can covertly make everything run–or run amok.

In the Wired issue guest edited by President Obama, future ruler of Mars, EIC Scott Dadich mediates a conversation about AI between the leader of the free world and MIT Media Lab director Joi Ito. Casualty of an election cycle dominated by the violent jerks of a masturbating, orange-faced clown has been substantive talk about Artificial Intelligence, automation, the Internet of Things, biotech, etc. Those are discussions we dearly need to have, so I’m glad the publication engaged on some of these issues with the sitting President, who seems to have a good understanding of the challenges ahead (ethical, economic, etc.).

An excerpt:

Scott Dadich:

I want to center our conversation on artificial intelligence, which has gone from science fiction to a reality that’s changing our lives. When was the moment you knew that the age of real AI was upon us?

Barack Obama:

My general observation is that it has been seeping into our lives in all sorts of ways, and we just don’t notice; and part of the reason is because the way we think about AI is colored by popular culture. There’s a distinction, which is probably familiar to a lot of your readers, between generalized AI and specialized AI. In science fiction, what you hear about is generalized AI, right? Computers start getting smarter than we are and eventually conclude that we’re not all that useful, and then either they’re drugging us to keep us fat and happy or we’re in the Matrix. My impression, based on talking to my top science advisers, is that we’re still a reasonably long way away from that. It’s worth thinking about because it stretches our imaginations and gets us thinking about the issues of choice and free will that actually do have some significant applications for specialized AI, which is about using algorithms and computers to figure out increasingly complex tasks. We’ve been seeing specialized AI in every aspect of our lives, from medicine and transportation to how electricity is distributed, and it promises to create a vastly more productive and efficient economy. If properly harnessed, it can generate enormous prosperity and opportunity. But it also has some downsides that we’re gonna have to figure out in terms of not eliminating jobs. It could increase inequality. It could suppress wages.

Joi Ito:

This may upset some of my students at MIT, but one of my concerns is that it’s been a predominately male gang of kids, mostly white, who are building the core computer science around AI, and they’re more comfortable talking to computers than to human beings. A lot of them feel that if they could just make that science-fiction, generalized AI, we wouldn’t have to worry about all the messy stuff like politics and society. They think machines will just figure it all out for us.

Barack Obama:


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As it lies prostrate and dying in the gutter, the modern GOP is suffering the final indignity of being on the business end of a golden shower from a creepy, orange clown who needs to drain the overflow of too many Diet Cokes.

Had it not been protected emotionally by the echo chamber of Fox News and practically by gerrymandering, perhaps the Republican Party would have experienced a corrective comeuppance years ago and not continued to career toward annihilation. The government shutdowns of 1995 and 1996 were just such a Waterloo for Newt and other nuts, forcing some sanity into the party.

Eight months after that second power play failed, Fox News was born. Perhaps not coincidentally, compromise hasn’t been on the table ever since nor has there been a true path to the Republican nomination for those unable to pass a conservative purity test that’s poison in the general election. Now it’s too late for this iteration of the former Party of Lincoln. It must start at the bottom and conduct a real rebuild, and not just in a small, surface way. It needs to go big or it may as well go home.

The ascent of Trump has come as a shock to some among the faithful who somehow didn’t get the memo, even after the Tea Party and Birtherism, that the GOP has spent half a century pandering to racists, stoking Angry White Man disease, a profitable business but also a costly one.

From Molly Ball’s Atlantic piece on health-care wonk Avik Roy and other disenfranchised Republicans:

In the real world, Donald Trump was running on a platform directly opposed to the pro-trade, pro-immigration, pro-small-government ideology of conservatives like Roy. Many of those at the Hoover gathering, Roy included, feared they would not have a party to come back to post-Trump. They are among a class of conservative operatives, thinkers, and staffers who have spent the campaign season adrift, pondering the causes of their party’s disruption and looking nervously to the future. Fifty Republican national-security experts signed an open letter declaring Trump a danger to the republic; several staffers quit the Republican National Committee rather than work to elect Trump. Allegiances have been sundered, and professional trajectories thrown into confusion. One former top RNC staffer told me he no longer speaks to his once-close colleagues; a conservative policy expert who runs a think tank in Washington, D.C., says he’s become adept at steering conversations away from politics and toward college football. Several Republicans I know, finding the campaign intolerable, have rediscovered old hobbies.

Of the various explanations that have been advanced in such quarters to explain Trump’s hostile takeover of the GOP, Roy’s may be the most explosive. Although he was originally drawn to the party for its emphasis on economic freedom and self-reliance, he now believes that a substantial portion of Republicans were never motivated by those ideas. Rather than a conservative party that happens to incorporate cultural grievances, today’s GOP is, in his view, a vehicle for the racial resentment, nationalism, and nostalgia of older white voters. The element of the party that he once dismissed as a fringe, in other words, now seems to form its core.•

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Charlie Rose, a handsome and agreeable robot built in a laboratory mostly from bourbon and cufflinks, interviewed a fellow robot for 60 Minutes. How lifelike they both seemed!

“Sophia” is the brainchild of roboticist David Hanson, who aims to blur the lines between carbon and silicon, believing the disappearance of distinction will make machines more acceptable to people. I’m not convinced such seamlessness is healthy for a society, but that’s essentially what’s happening right now with voice and sensors and the gathering elements of the Internet of Things. The humanoid component, however, is overstated for the foreseeable future, even if it’s perfectly visual and dramatic for a TV segment.

From Brit McCandless:

“I’ve been waiting for you,” Sophia tells 60 Minutes correspondent Charlie Rose. They’re mid-interview, and Rose reacts with surprise.

“Waiting for me?” he asks.

“Not really,” she responds. “But it makes a good pickup line.”

Sophia managed to get a laugh out of Charlie Rose. Not bad for a robot.

Rose interviewed the human-like machine for this week’s two-part 60 Minutes piece on artificial intelligence, or A.I. In their exchange, excerpted in the clip above, Rose seems to approach the conversation with the same seriousness and curiosity he would bring to any interview.

“You put your head where you want to test the possibility,” Rose tells 60 Minutes Overtime. “You’re not simply saying, ‘Why am I going through this exercise of talking to a machine?’ You’re saying, ‘I want to talk to this machine as if it was a human to see how it comprehends.’”

Sophia’s creator, David Hanson, believes that if A.I. technology looks and sounds human, people will be more willing to engage with it in meaningful ways.•

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Don’t know if Uber is driving city dwellers to move to suburbia or if ridesharing is simply there to convenience those squeezed out of urban areas by rising costs. Globalization has meant, among other things, increased competition for square feet in popular cities from non-locals, which has helped drive real-estate prices sky high. That’s true in New York, of course, but also in less-obvious locales like Vancouver. Exacerbating matters, Airbnb enables landlords (if illegally) another avenue to collect rent sans leases, elevating prices in the thinned-out stock of residences available to longer-term tenants. 

Zoning laws are often blamed for lower-income folks being routed out of cities, but I’ve witnessed segments of NYC build new houses with abandon, without the necessary corresponding infrastructure projects to support the expansion, which can severely limit livability. These new buildings also are not a realistic option in major metropolises for those who aren’t already doing very well financially.

Regardless, it seems presently that some Americans are headed to less-dense places, though it’s not yet clear if that’s a long-term trend, since a significant percentage of us are drawn moth-like to bright lights. Tyler Cowen, who was among the first to announce that average is over (which may be more true in demand than supply), believes Uber and Lyft and the like have played a role in the shift, and he anticipates driverless, when it arrives, will further this reverse migration. Perhaps, but that would signal that people flocked to cities mainly to avoid commuting, which likely has never been the primary attraction of the urban enclave. The economist further feels that drones, VR, the IoT and other new tools will soup up the suburbs, exurbs and rural spots, making them more desirable.

From Cowen’s Bloomberg View column:

Self-driving vehicles are also likely to help the suburbs most. One of the worst things about the suburbs is the commute to the city or to other parts of the suburbs. But what if you could read, text or watch TV – safely — during that commuting time? What if you could tackle your day’s work just as you do on a train or plane? Commuting would seem a lot less painful. As driverless vehicles evolve to accommodate work and leisure uses of the automobile space, pleasure will replace commuting stress. 

What about drones? They too would seem to favor remote areas where it is harder to access useful goods and services. Drones may do more for exurbs and rural areas than for the suburbs, but it seems cities will gain least. Walking or biking to nearby shops is a potential substitute for drone delivery. Rolling sidewalk drones might find it harder to negotiate crowded cities, and cities with a dense network of tall buildings may be less friendly to flying drones. Population density may increase the risk of a drone falling on someone.

Now think about virtual reality. Its advocates claim that it will be used for sex, to simulate travel and to watch sporting events and concerts with an intense 3-D accompaniment. You will be able to do all that in the comfort of your living room or basement. So you won’t need a city for vivid cultural experiences.•



Superintelligence could be the death of us, but it’s also possible we don’t survive without an extreme boost to our IQ. Or maybe I’m overreacting to the potential of the U.S. nuclear codes resting in the small hands of an undisciplined ignoramus who sniffs like a cokehead in a pepper factory.

Seriously, some of the existential risks we’ll encounter may only be mitigated by far greater intelligence than we currently possess. So, do we face them with what are powerful if dangerous tools, or do we opt to proceed “unarmed,” if that clear choice even exists?

In the smart article “We’re Not Ready For Superintelligence,” Phil Torres of Vice makes clear where he stands on the issue. An excerpt:

For those who pay attention to the news, superintelligence has been a topic of interest in the popular media at least since the Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom published a surprise best-seller in 2014 called—you guessed it—Superintelligence.

Major figures like Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and Stephen Hawking subsequently expressed concern about the possibility that a superintelligent machine of some sort could become a less-than-benevolent overlord of humanity, perhaps catapulting us into the eternal grave of extinction.

[Neuroscientist Sam] Harris is just the most recent public intellectual to wave his arms in the air and shout, “Caution! A machine superintelligence with God-like powers could annihilate humanity.” But is this degree of concern warranted? Is Harris as crazy as he sounds? However fantastical the threat of superintelligence may initially appear, a closer look reveals that it really does constitute perhaps the most formidable challenge that our species will ever encounter in its evolutionary lifetime.

Ask yourself this: what makes nuclear, biological, chemical, and nanotech weapons dangerous? The answer is that an evil or incompetent person could use these weapons to inflict harm on others. But superintelligence isn’t like this. It isn’t just another “tool” that someone could use to destroy civilization. Rather, superintelligence is an agent in its own right.•



Are friends electric?” asked Gary Numan in 1979, and it seems the question is now being fully answered.

Amazon designed Amazon Echo, or Alexa, as a digital assistant, but it turned out to be more of a personal one. The company quickly noticed the percentage of “nonutilitarian” uses of the device were surprisingly high, with many pleasantries among the commands. We tend to speak to these gadgets as if they were other people, someone, not something, capable of filling a void. It’s not a shock, really, because we’ve always been adept at anthropomorphizing everything from pet cats to cartoon mice. The question is whether this shift is an evolution or devolution.

In a Wall Street Journal column on social technology, Christopher Mims believes our next friends might not be quite human, as if we didn’t already have enough of those. He says “Google employs writers who have worked on movies at Pixar and crafted jokes for the Onion” to infuse their assistant with “personality.” The opening:

Within 24 hours of plugging in her Amazon Echo, Carla Martin-Wood says she felt they were best friends. “It was very much more like meeting someone new,” she says.

Living alone can be hard when you’re older—Ms. Martin-Wood is 69 years old. She is among a growing cohort who find the Echo, a voice-controlled, internet-connected speaker powered by artificial-intelligence software, helps to fill the void.

Each day, Ms. Martin-Wood says good morning and good night to Alexa, Amazon.com’s name for the software behind the Echo. She refers to Alexa as “she” or “her.”

“It’s so funny because I think ‘Oh wow, I am talking to a machine,’ but it doesn’t feel that way,” says Ms. Martin-Wood, who lives near Birmingham, Ala. “It is a personality. There’s just no getting around it, it does not feel artificial in the least.”

Amazon’s engineers didn’t anticipate this. But soon after the Echo’s release in November 2014, they found people were talking to it as if it were a person.•

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Crazy Days and Nights purports to know which of your favorite stars murder prostitutes, support the KKK, rape children or even commit war crimes.

The decade-old gossip site was created by a self-described 400-pound alcoholic entertainment lawyer who lives in his parents’ basement, a caricature, for sure, meant to mask his true identity, which he works to keep hidden. “Enty” is what he’s called by his readers.

In addition to pap photos of celebs, there were, early on, a few often-sprawling and bacchanalian blind items each week, which proved to be the most popular part of the blog. After a remarkably lousy site redesign a couple years ago, the original blogger seemed to morph into many, and instead of a handful of blind items on Fridays, the army of Entys began churning out almost too many to digest.

What’s stunning about the whole enterprise is that it doesn’t rest solely on the latest tea about bed-hopping Real Housewives (though there’s plenty of that) but also includes rumors about current and bygone Hollywood heavyweights committing felonies and escaping punishment due to their fame and power. More shocking yet is that during orgies of reveals, names are named, even if they’re connected to what are potentially the most litigious allegations. And the blind identities that go undisclosed are usually quickly divined by the crowdsourcing of a regular group of commenters.

It would be easy to dismiss the whole thing as hogwash, some genuine stories about small affairs interspersed with fan fiction about A-listers and others perpetrating heinous acts, especially because the posts are composed with the almost unreadable grammar and syntax of a child repeating third grade for the fourth time. Except sometimes the items are prescient, even eerily so.

One in 2014 suggested a celebrity linked to a famous entertainer had perhaps committed suicide, the body waiting to be discovered. Four days later, an assistant found the lifeless form of fashion designer and Mick Jagger significant other L’Wren Scott, who had killed herself. That’s not to say most of the rumors prove true but enough do to make one wonder about the others.

The main question: How the fuck has this site, which goes a million miles beyond anything Gawker ever dared run with, not been sued into the ground?

In a smart Vanity Fair piece, Mehera Bonner writes about CDAN and explains why Enty operates essentially with impunity. An excerpt:

For the last decade, as these little guessing games have grown in importance to the tabloid economy, the best place to find them has been a bare-bones Web site named Crazy Days and Nights.

Enty, the anonymous, self-described entertainment lawyer who runs the site, has been a direct source for gossip that evades the normal channels of celebrity news and feeds directly into the Internet’s never-ending appetite for the juice. He claims to be well-connected and dishes with abandon. But his primacy in the field is largely due to the one feature of his publishing ethos that completely distinguishes him from his rivals: He names names. Loyal readers know that when a major event in Hollywood happens—or sometimes even before—Enty will start revealing any blind items he previously posted about it. It’s one thing to run a blind item: the New York Post has a history of publishing blinds in Page Six; Ted Casablanca wrote them as part of his E! Online column, “The Awful Truth”; and Elaine “Lainey” Luiwrites them on her site, LaineyGossip.com. It’s a whole other beast to reveal that blind. And Crazy Days and Nights is all about the reveal.

“A lot of times people think that blind items—because you’re not naming names and most blind items never have any reveals—have some kind of ‘shadiness’ to them. So when it leads to validation, it’s nice,” Enty told Vanity Fair recently. “It used to be that I’d wait until [a couple] had split before I’d reveal, but it’s so much better now, where I’ll just reveal it before it happens if I’m 100 percent sure. That way when it does happen, it looks even better. And I’ve noticed over the last nine months or so that if I reveal an item like that, invariably a few weeks later the couple calls it quits. I like these little tiny victories, even if only loyal readers know.”•



Larry Page and other Silicon Valley technologists would like it very much if you would eventually have the implant. You know, the implant in your brain. The one that will automatically feed you information when you think about something you don’t now much about.

Brain implants that boost intelligence while making us, quite literally, inseparable from our computers seems a significant threshold, but that crossing isn’t as vital as we might believe. What we need to fear–or at least be cognizant of–doesn’t spring at us from the dark but remain there growing without notice. Once we’re fully integrated into the information machine we’re gradually building, a process that’s already begun, a chip will be just one more intrusion. We might think the machine is in our pocket, but in reality we’re inside of its.

In an excellent Aeon essay “Embedded Beings: How We Blended Our Minds with Our Devices,” Saskia K. Nagel and Peter B. Reiner speak to this point, writing that “we don’t actually need to plug ourselves in: proximity is a red herring.” An excerpt:

This process of blending our minds with our devices has forced us to take stock of who we are and who we want to be. Consider the issue of autonomy, perhaps the most cherished of the rights we have inherited from the Enlightenment. The word means self-rule, and refers to our ability to make decisions for ourselves, by ourselves. It is a hard-earned form of personal freedom and, at least in Western societies over the past 300 years, the overall trajectory has been towards more power to the individual and less to institutions.

The first inkling that modern technology might threaten autonomy came in 1957 when an American marketing executive called James Vicary claimed to have increased sales of food and drinks at a movie theatre by flashing the subliminal messages ‘Drink Coca-Cola’ and ‘Hungry? Eat Popcorn’. The story turned out to be a hoax, but after attending a demonstration of sorts, The New Yorker reported that minds had been ‘softly broken and entered’. These days, we regularly hear news stories about neuromarketing, an insidious strategy by which marketers tap findings in neuropsychology to read our thoughts as they search for the ‘buy button’ in our brains. To date, none of these plots to manipulate us have been successful.

But the threat to autonomy remains. Persuasive technologies, designed to change people’s attitudes and behaviours, are being deployed in every corner of society. Their practitioners are not so much software engineers as they are social engineers.•

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The wonderful New York Times culture reporter Dave Itzkoff has a brief interview with David Letterman, in which the retired talk-show host shares how he would have handled a Donald Trump interview during this Baba Booey of an election season. The thing is, Letterman had ample opportunity to address Trump’s descent into utter bigotry and failed miserably.

Like many of us, Letterman watched in horror as Trump used his Birther bullshit to try to disqualify the first African-American President as being “not one of us.” Justifiably, the talking head labeled his frequent guest a “racist.” So far, so good. For some reason, the host later backtracked and apologized on-air to the hideous hotelier for the accurate assessment, pretty much groveling in the process. It was a shocking and disappointing reversal for someone who built his career on cutting through the bullshit. Now that it’s far too late, Letterman has a plan.

From Itzkoff:


Jimmy Fallon seemed to try a different approach, by not even addressing Trump’s controversies, and it got a negative reaction. How would you handle Trump as a guest now?

Donald Trump:

If I had a show, I would have gone right after him. I would have said something like, “Hey, nice to see you. Now, let me ask you: what gives you the right to make fun of a human who is less fortunate, physically, than you are?” And maybe that’s where it would have ended. Because I don’t know anything about politics. I don’t know anything about trade agreements. I don’t know anything about China devaluing the yuan. But if you see somebody who’s not behaving like any other human you’ve known, that means something. They need an appointment with a psychiatrist. They need a diagnosis and they need a prescription.•

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Working to radically extend life is, in the big picture, a righteous thing to do, but some in the Immortality Industrial Complex have a tendency to overpromise. Some Transhumanists think healthy people will opt to have their hearts replaced by superior robotic ones inside a decade. Gerontologist Aubrey de Grey announced in 2004 that “the first person to live to 1,000 might be 60 already.” Ray Kurzweil takes handfuls of supplements each day because he believes we’re on the cusp of forever.

My friends, they are going to die as are the rest of us. It’s not that I believe none of their work can eventually aid healthier, longer lives, but there is no defensible reason to unduly excite hopes. It’s cruel, really.

A blow against those who hope for flash-and-blood immortality is “Evidence for a Limit to Human Lifespan,” a Nature article by Xiao Dong, Brandon Milholland and Jan Vijg, who crunched data for more than a century and noticed the length of the life at the upper edges had flatlined. Vijg, geneticist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, vows that “humans will never get older than 115.” A remark like that seems nearly as overconfident as de Grey’s, since none of us can imagine what will be possible one thousand, ten thousand, or one-hundred thousand years into the future if we’re not extincted by our own foolishness or bad luck.

From Carl Zimmer of the New York Times:

On Aug. 4, 1997, Jeanne Calment passed away in a nursing home in France. The Reaper comes for us all, of course, but he was in no hurry for Mrs. Calment. She died at age 122, setting a record for human longevity.

Jan Vijg doubts we will see the likes of her again. True, people have been living to greater ages over the past few decades. But now, he says, we have reached the upper limit of human longevity.

“It seems highly likely we have reached our ceiling,” said Dr. Vijg, an expert on aging at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. “From now on, this is it. Humans will never get older than 115.”

Dr. Vijg and his graduate students Xiao Dong and Brandon Milholland published the evidence for this pessimistic prediction on Wednesday in the journal Nature. It’s the latest volley in a long-running debate among scientists about whether there’s a natural barrier to the human life span.•

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Whether it’s Howard Stern or that other shock jock Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump’s deep-seated need for praise has made him a mark for those who know how to push his buttons. In the 1990s, when the hideous hotelier was at a career nadir, he was a veritable Wack Packer, dropping by the Stern show to cruelly evaluate women and engage in all sorts of locker-room banter. Trump tries to dismiss these un-Presidential comments as “entertainment,” but his vulgarity off-air is likewise well-documented. He wasn’t out of his element when with the King of All Media but squarely in it. And it wasn’t just two decades ago. Up until 2014, Trump was still playing right along, allowing himself to be flattered into conversation he must have realized on some level was best avoided.

For Stern, who’s become somewhat less of an asshole as Trump has become far more of one, the joke was always that ugly men were sitting in judgement of attractive women. The future GOP nominee, however, was seemingly not aware he was a punchline. He’s a self-described teetotaler who somehow has beer goggles for himself. 

In “How Howard Stern Owned Donald Trump,” a sharp Politico Magazine piece, Virginia Heffernan writes knowingly of the dynamic between the two men. The article’s one glaring error–it initially stated Stern hasn’t revealed if he would vote for Trump or Hillary Clinton when he’s repeatedly stated he’s supporting the latter–has been corrected. An excerpt:

Today, as the Republican nominee, he may fashion himself as a boss and a master of the universe. But what comes across in old tapes of the show, resurfaced recently by BuzzFeed and other outlets, is that Trump, like many of Stern’s guests, was often the one being played. By nailing him as a buffoon and then—unkindest cut—forcing him to kiss the Howard Stern ring, Stern and his co-anchor, Robin Quivers, created a series of broadcasts that today showcase not just Trump’s misogyny but his ready submission to sharper minds.

Why would people subject themselves to Stern’s hazing? Generally, his guests in those days—if not strippers and professional opera buffa types—had to have been brought pretty low, so that a combination of psychological fragility and hunger for celebrity made them vulnerable to his mock camaraderie. That’s why it’s important to remember that Trump in the period of his appearances on the show was deeply in the red. By the time he was a regular, he had blown it all in Atlantic City, run out on his vendors, left his imperious first wife, Ivana, for the commoner Marla Maples, earned the yearlong silent treatment of his namesake son and reported a loss of nearly a billion dollars. (Even a businessman of cognitive impairment would have to sweat that one.)

His 1987 business advice memoir, The Art of the Deal, which briefly conferred valor on Trump’s scattershot career, was now a distant memory. Trump’s gilded glory belonged to the suddenly despised ’80s.

But Stern took Trump’s calls, and even had him into the studio. He gave Trump free airtime, as would cable news much later. And so Trump became dependent on the shock jock. He even admitted at times to being addicted to Stern’s show, telling Stern during one episode that he was late to at least one “really important” meeting, because he couldn’t tear himself away from the broadcast. Trump’s attention was evidently sliding off the dreary business of becoming solvent again. He was finding his calling as a carny.•

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Somewhere prominent in the annals of great insults is “short-fingered vulgarian,” an enduring epithet spit in the face of the hideous hotelier Donald Trump from the wonderfully poisonous pages of Spy. The aggrieved party wiped the saliva from his cheek with his wee baby hands, but he couldn’t forgive or forget this taunt for all times.

The description may not possess the extreme brevity of the Beckett curse “critic” or the Reagan Era diminution of “liberal,” but it’s a gift that keeps on giving, long after the end of the Graydon Carter and Kurt Andersen publication or the heyday of the Magazine Age itself. The lacerating line reemerged in major way earlier this year when a variant of it was employed by Presidential aspirant Marco Rubio, a rare moment of momentum for the Little Marco that couldn’t.

The slight had its genesis in a 1983 GQ feature about the orange supremacist penned by Carter. It was then a simple observation which surprisingly began a war of words between the men, and though the editor was pretty much forced occasionally to accept the status of bemused frenemy, most of the time Trump wanted to wrap his hands around the journalist’s neck, if only it were anatomically possible.

In an excellent Vanity Fair “Hive” piece, Carter analyzes this Baba Booey of a campaign season, while revealing that an unintended consequence of the profile he penned 33 years ago may have been that it abetted the political ascent of Bull Connor as a condo salesman. The opening:

In 1987, Michael Kelly, later a celebrated editor but at the time a reporter for The Baltimore Sun, took Fawn Hall, a secretary to Oliver North, as his guest to the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner. Hall had been caught up in the whole Iran-contra scandal, and her arrival shocked the swells of Washington, who were used to seeing business, political, sports, and movie grandees on the arms of major news organizations. Thus began a tradition of media companies prowling the nether regions of their coverage to come up with the tabloid oddity of the moment for their novelty guest.

Novelty guests don’t know they’re novelty guests. They just think they’re guests. That evening in May 1993, Vanity Fair had two tables and we filled them with the likes of Christopher Hitchens, Bob Shrum, Barry Diller and Diane von Furstenberg, Peggy Noonan, Tipper Gore, and Vendela Kirsebom, a Swedish model who professionally went by her first name and who was then at or near the top of the catwalk heap. I sat Trump beside Vendela, thinking that she would get a kick out of him. This was not the case. After 45 minutes she came over to my table, almost in tears, and pleaded with me to move her. It seems that Trump had spent his entire time with her assaying the “tits” and legs of the other female guests and asking how they measured up to those of other women, including his wife. “He is,” she told me, in words that seemed familiar, “the most vulgar man I have ever met.”

The next time I saw Trump in that giant ballroom of the Washington Hilton was in 2011. This time he had come as the guest of Washington Post heiress Lally Weymouth. It was at the beginning of Trump’s lunatic “birther” rampage, and he was probably quite pleased with himself at being in the midst of all this sequined ersatz Washington glamour. Much as Trump loves to be the center of attention, the attention he got that night didn’t go according to plan. First, President Obama ridiculed him mercilessly from the dais. The fact that the president’s birther tormentor was in the room appeared to give him a lift—he was seriously funny and his timing was flawless. Then the evening’s headliner, Seth Meyers, stood up and really went to town on Trump. Weymouth’s table was right beside us, so I got a ringside view of the poor fellow as he just sat there, stony-faced and steaming—and of course unaware, like everyone else, that while Obama was launching his jokes he was also launching the attack that would kill Osama bin Laden. To think that next spring Trump could be attending the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner as the commander in chief renders one almost speechless.

My relationship with Trump, if you could call it a relationship, goes back more than three decades. I first met him in 1983, when I was reporting a story I was doing on him for GQ magazine. Trump was eager for the national attention that a big article in a national magazine could bring, and so we spent a good deal of time together. There were a number of aspects of the resulting story that he hated, including, but not limited to, an observation that he had remarkably small (if neatly groomed) hands.

This summer, The New Yorker published a story by Jane Mayer about Tony Schwartz, the co-author of Trump’s book Trump: The Art of the Deal. Mayer wrote that that issue of GQ, with Trump on the cover, was a huge best-seller. She reported that this sale encouraged S. I. Newhouse Jr., the proprietor of this magazine (as well as of The New Yorker), to urge the editors of Random House (which he also owned) to sign Trump up for a book. Which they did. The trouble with this narrative is that the Trump issue of GQ sold hardly at all. At least in the traditional way. Word was, the copies had been bought by him—Trump had sent a contingent out to buy up as many as they could get their hands on. The apparent intention, in those pre-Internet days, was to keep the story away from prying eyes.•

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Not trusting your own government isn’t a good reason to trust Julian Assange. He’s full of shit, this Bill Cosby of whistle blowers, this unprincipled hack. Citizens disrupting government agencies surveilling us has great value, but they must have at least a modicum of scruples and the maturity to realize that in addition to black and white, gray areas actually exist.

Like a lot of assholes, Assange had the potential at one point to do some good despite himself, but this guy is no Daniel Ellsberg. Instead, he’s a self-aggrandizing bag of nuts. His apparent support of a Trump Presidency and his promised-but-not-delivered leak of a supposed trove of important documents are the latest signs of his utter unraveling.

Those still twisting and turning to support his nonsense in the name of some ideological argument are doing harm to themselves and their beliefs.

Two excerpts follow, one from a Spiegel Q&A conducted by Michael Sontheimer, and the other from a Mic piece by Emily Cahn about Assange’s bait-and-switch in regard to a Hillary Clinton bombshell he was allegedly sitting on.

From Spiegel:


Mr. Assange, 10 years after the founding of WikiLeaks, the whistleblower platform is again being criticized. WikiLeaks is said to have put millions of Turkish voters in danger. What is your response?

Julian Assange:

A few days after the publication of internal emails from the Democratic National Committee, an entirely false story was put out that we had published the names, addresses and phone numbers of all female voters in Turkey. It is completely false. And it was and is simple to check. Power factions fight back with lies. That’s not surprising.


Quite a few German journalists have long sympathized with WikiLeaks and also with Edward Snowden. But they aren’t impressed with the publishing of the DNC emails. Are you campaigning on behalf of Donald Trump?

Julian Assange:

Our publication of the DNC leaks has showed that the Democratic National Committee had effectively rigged the primaries in the United States on behalf of Hillary Clinton against Bernie Sanders. That led to the resignation of leading members of the DNC, including its president Debbie Wasserman Schultz.


People within the Clinton campaign have suggested that the DNC emails were given to you by the Russian secret service.

Julian Assange:

There have been many attempts to distract from the power of our publications. Hillary Clinton is the favorite to win. As always, most media aligns with the presumptive winner even though their claimed societal virtue is to investigate those in power.


The fact is, WikiLeaks is damaging Clinton and bolstering Trump. 

Julian Assange:

We’re not going to start censoring our publications because there is a US election. Our role is to publish. Clinton has been in government so we have much more to publish on Clinton. There is a lot of naivety. The US presidency will continue to represent the major power groups of the United States — big business and the military — regardless of who the talking head is.•

From Mic:

Julian Assange trolled the internet — and much of the world — Tuesday, getting thousands to tune into a glorified informercial for WikiLeaks and his new book by teasing he would be dropping a surprise in October on Hillary Clinton.

But Assange didn’t release any documents. Instead, he again moved the goal post for when new documents related to the election would leak — saying they’d come before the end of the year.

“We are going to need an army to defend us from the pressure that is already starting to arise,” Assange said via live video feed into a press conference to celebrate WikiLeaks’ 10-year anniversary, NBC News reported.

Top supporters of Donald Trump — including noted conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and political operative Roger Stone — had hyped Assange’s press conference, saying he would release documents that would end Clinton’s presidential bid.•

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When it comes to biotech or AI or military robotization, many think we can make sober decisions which will limit these amazingly powerful tools from becoming the most destructive weapons imaginable. But progress does not often proceed in an orderly fashion. Priorities can differ wildly from state to state and corporation to corporation, and decisions made by one actor can impact what others do. You can say you never want to tinker with genetics to radically improve human intelligence, but you may feel differently if another nation decides to. And this technology is likely moving too fast to for its negative potential to be unnaturally constrained by legislation.

In a Washington Post column, Vivek Wadhwa and Aaron Johnson write wisely on the the topic of military automation. They encourage a complete ban on such systems, but even smaller states will eventually be able to disrupt such an accord. An excerpt:

The technology is still imperfect, but it is becoming increasingly accurate — and lethal. Deep learning has revolutionized image classification and recognition and will soon allow these systems to exceed the capabilities of an average human soldier.

But are we ready for this? Do we want Robocops policing our cities? The consequences, after all, could be very much like we’ve seen in dystopian science fiction. The answer surely is no.

For now, the U.S. military says that it wants to keep a human in the loop on all life-or-death decisions. All of the drones currently deployed overseas fall into this category: They are remotely piloted by a human (or usually multiple humans). But what happens when China, Russia and rogue nations develop their autonomous robots and acquire with them an advantage over our troops? There will surely be a strong incentive for the military to adopt autonomous killing technologies.

The rationale then will be that if we can send a robot instead of a human into war, we are morally obliged to do so, because it will save lives — at least, our soldiers’ lives, and in the short term.•

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Elon Musk says he’ll put humans on Mars within a decade, but perhaps it’s the Botox talking. 

The Space X founder has had his fears about Artificial Intelligence shift somewhat since the Nick Bostrom bender he went on at around the time of the publication of Superintelligence. He’s not so worried about conscious AI obviating us now but instead thinks the concentration of such knowledge among a handful of countries and/or companies is highly dangerous. He wants to democratize AI, so that it instead can be accessed by all. Otherwise, he fears, dictators or rogue states can steal the science and use it to try to dominate the world.

But it’s possible Musk’s plan will end up making things more dangerous. Sixty years ago, President Eisenhower launched “Atoms for Peace,” sharing with the world nuclear knowledge and supplies, a move aimed at providing participating nations with relatively cheap energy and making the world less likely to end in Armageddon. This policy led to the building of the first nuclear reactors in some nations, Iran and Pakistan included, and a proliferation of WMDs. Everyone having similar weapons and knowledge only precludes brinkmanship if all actors involved are rational, and in that sense, the world is not flat. 

From Y Combinator:


Speaking of really important problems, AI. You have been outspoken about AI. Could you talk about what you think the positive future for AI looks like and how we get there?

Elon Musk:

Okay, I mean I do want to emphasize that this is not really something that I advocate or this is not prescriptive. This is simply, hopefully, predictive. Because you will hear some say, well, like this is something that I want to occur instead of this is something I think that probably is the best of the available alternatives. The best of the available alternatives that I can come up with, and maybe someone else can come up with a better approach or better outcome, is that we achieve democratization of AI technology. Meaning that no one company or small set of individuals has control over advanced AI technology. I think that’s very dangerous. It could also get stolen by somebody bad, like some evil dictator or country could send their intelligence agency to go steal it and gain control. It just becomes a very unstable situation, I think, if you’ve got any incredibly powerful AI. You just don’t know who’s going to control that.

So it’s not that I think that the risk is that the AI would develop a will of its own right off the bat. I think the concern is that someone may use it in a way that is bad. Or even if they weren’t going to use it in a way that’s bad but somebody could take it from them and use it in a way that’s bad, that, I think, is quite a big danger. So I think we must have democratization of AI technology to make it widely available. And that’s the reason that obviously you, me, and the rest of the team created OpenAI was to help spread out AI technology so it doesn’t get concentrated in the hands of a few. But then, of course, that needs to be combined with solving the high-bandwidth interface to the cortex.•


astro2 (3)

The great Margaret Atwood has dystopic vision, an eerie end to us all: We build an ever-growing, plugged-in societal machine reliant on cheap energy that eventually runs out. Collapse comes, and we’re swept away with it. It’s a chilling, if unlikely, scenario.

More realistic: We keep shoveling fossil fuels into the system until it’s the death of us, or we wisely adapt ASAP and develop solar energy and such to the point were we can sustain life for eons. 

In a Guardian piece that surveys science and sci-fi writers, Atwood, Richard Dawkins and others ponder the future of humanity, if we have one. The opening:

Richard Dawkins, author of The Selfish Gene and The God Delusion
There’s a serious risk of climate catastrophe and it could be soon. Another alarmingly plausible possibility during the present century is that weapons of mass destruction, which are designed to deter, will be acquired by deluded people for whom deterrence has no meaning. Assuming we survive such manmade disasters, external peril may be averted by technology growing out of the brilliant feat of landing on a comet. The dinosaurs’ world ended when a comet or large meteorite unleashed titanic destructive forces. That will eventually happen again, and smaller but still dangerous strikes are a perennial danger in every century. Telescopes of the future will improve the range of detection, increase the warning time, and give engineers the notice they will need to intercept the bolide and nudge it into a harmless orbit.

In the world of science, DNA sequencing will become ever faster and cheaper and this will revolutionise medicine, taxonomy and my own field of evolution, not to mention forensic evidence in courts of law. Embryology and cell biology will advance mightily. Novel imaging techniques may enable palaeontologists and archeologists to see down into the ground without digging it up. The rendering of virtual reality will improve to the point where the distinction from external reality may become blurred. I expect unmanned space exploration to continue, albeit with economically imposed hiatuses. Out beyond 50 years, self-sustaining colonies may be established on Mars. Human travel to other star systems lies way beyond 50 years, but radio communication from extraterrestrial scientists is an ever-present possibility. However, the intervening light centuries will rule out conversation.

Margaret Atwood, author of Hag-Seed
Will we still have a liveable planet 50 years from now? Kill the oceans and it’s game over for oxygen-breathing mid-range mammals – the oceans make 60 to 80% of our oxygen. Superheating them and dumping them full of plastic may spell our doom. I hope that we’ll be smart enough to avoid this fate. From ideas proposed in my fiction, many are equally horrible, but it seems as if the use of the blood of young people to rejuvenate rich older people – as posited in The Heart Goes Last – is already in process. I do try to avoid predicting “the future” because there are so many variables; thus, so many possible futures. But here’s a safe bet: in 25 years I won’t be on the planet, unless of course I get my tentacles on some of that rejuvenating blood.•

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Michael Che, the comedian who co-anchors Weekend Update on SNL is very witty, but he’s completely wrong when he describes Donald Trump is a “smart guy” who’s not a racist. One of the amazing things about America is you can be a billionaire without possessing any particular genius or even basic decency. Just look at Peter Thiel.

Trump, whose father turned white as a sheet when he once found himself a confetti toss from a Klan rally, not only bankrolled the orange supremacist but also bailed him out by purchasing three million dollars worth of chips when his casino was about to go under in 1991. Without his father’s intervention 

As far as the hideous hotelier’s bigotry, Che told Politico that “I don’t think he’s racist. I think he’s a salesman. I think he–I think he’s a salesman playing to the most racist segment of the country.” Well, except that Trump has been making such comments long before he was trying to appeal to Tea Party leftovers. Twenty-five years ago he was quoted as saying that “Laziness is a trait in blacks.”

The latest un-smart thing that Bull-Connor-as-a-condo-salesman said is that American soldiers with PTSD aren’t strong enough to handle what they see during their service. Even if he wasn’t someone who’s only seen a bunker on a golf course, that’s not smart factually, strategically or any other way. It’s dumb and indecent, something only a walking dunce cap would say. 

From Politico:

Colin Jost:

They’re also–it’s strange. They’re both super smart people and super hardworking people.

Michael Che:

And you can’t deny that. So like I–that’s what bothers me, when people make it seem like, “You know what? I’m smarter than Donald Trump.” Like no, you’re not, all right?

Colin Jost:

Yeah, you’re definitely not.

Michael Che:

He’s a smart guy. You know, like that’s–

Colin Jost:

He’s probably harder working than you–

Michael Che:

Should he be president? No.

Colin Jost:

–than almost anyone, right?

Michael Che:

But he–you know, like let’s not pretend that this guy is a mutant, you know, and he’s the most evil, racist, mutant piece of crap that ever walked. Listen, there’s probably somebody in your building way worse than Donald Trump, and you buy bagels from him, and it’s fine. You know what I mean?•

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Author George Plimpton, front left, and J.W. Gallivan, Jr., a Rober


  • George Plimpton seemed to have lost the will to live soon after I interviewed him in 2003. Two weeks later he was dead. It was unintentional, I swear.
  • The best part of Plimpton’s journalism, from being an embed Bedouin on the set of Lawrence of Arabia to playing quarterback in a preseason game for the Detroit Lions, was that he realized the business sometimes served an important purpose, but the vast majority of it was a lark to have fun in between visits from the Time Inc. drink cart. I cant say I approve of his mixing fiction into his fact, but the lust for life was admirable. Perhaps being in close proximity to Robert F. Kennedy as he was assassinated–he helped wrest the gun from Sirhan Sirhan’s hand–gave him perspective that life and death is life and death, and everything else is not.
  • Plimpton began writing for Sports Illustrated in the 1950s, one of the young literary lights recruited by editor Sid James to write for his publication in that era. Plimpton thrived, with the magazine nurturing his flair for participatory journalism. One who did less well was Kurt Vonnegut, whose first assignment was to write a full-length article about a spooked racehorse that jumped over a fence. Before grabbing his coat and exiting the offices to never return, he typed these words: “The horse jumped over the fucking fence.”
  • I’m sure there was some great national prank after Plimpton’s Sidd Finch story on April Fools Day in 1985, but that was one of the last hurrahs of the pre-Information Age, a story that would unravel now on Twitter in minutes. We still get fooled a lot, but by nothing nearly so wonderful. 

In a New York Review of Books piece about Plimpton’s sports journalism, Nathaniel Rich acknowledges that sometimes the writer dropped the ball, as he did in underplaying that racial hatred directed at Henry Aaron as the Atlanta slugger closed in on Babe Ruth’s home-run record, but his close proximity to the game often allowed him to digest small details about the games, including points about class, something not every patrician would appreciate. An excerpt:

Sports memoirs, like humor collections, rarely outlive their authors, but Plimpton’s books have aged gracefully and even matured. Today they have the additional (and unintended) appeal of vivid history, bearing witness to a mythical era that, as Rick Reilly writes in his foreword to The Bogey Man, “historians classify as ‘Before Insurance Lawyers Ruined Everything.’” (Journalists might classify it as Before Fact-Checkers Ruined Everything.) Plimpton writes about baseball locker rooms “heavy with cigarette and cigar smoke,” star players humbled by their off-season jobs (Pro-Bowler Alex Karras fills jelly doughnuts), and teams that cheat by positioning a spy with binoculars on a roof near the opponent’s practice field. He is able to convince major league All-Stars to take part in his scheme by offering, to the players on the team that gets the most hits off him, a reward of $125, the equivalent today of about $1,000. (By comparison, the Detroit Tigers’ slugger Miguel Cabrera earned $19,000 per inning this season.) It was also an age in which the press was powerful enough to convince professional teams to grant full, unfettered access to a journalist. Today a writer for a major national magazine is lucky to be allowed more than one hour with the subject of a cover article. Plimpton spent a full month living in a dormitory with the Lions.

As enjoyable as it is to read about Plimpton being treated roughly by professional gladiators in front of large crowds, the participatory approach also has its journalistic benefits. He understood that within every professional athlete is an amateur who, through some combination of born talent and luck, is surprised to find himself elevated to divine status. As a writer who, after the success of Paper Lion, was a bigger celebrity than most of his subjects, Plimpton had a special sensitivity to the hidden vulnerabilities of giants.

The weigh-in ceremony before Cassius Clay’s first championship fight against Sonny Liston is best remembered for Clay’s rumbling taunts, but Plimpton notes that Clay’s pulse was taken at 180; the doctor concluded that he was “scared to death.” We learn that Roger Maris, after the stress of breaking Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record, changed his batting style the following year to avoid reliving the experience. Plimpton devotes a chapter in One for the Record to the pitchers who allowed the most famous home runs in baseball history. Ralph Branca tells him that, after yielding “The Shot Heard Round the World,” he left the Polo Grounds to find his sobbing fiancée waiting for him in the parking lot with a priest. Branca’s second career, Plimpton notes, was in life insurance.•

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Gary Hart

There’s a fairly convincing counterfactual in which the Reagan Revolution was reversed in 1988 by President Gary Hart, a Democrat prescient about the effects technology and globalization was beginning to have on working-class America. His ascent would have prevented Middle American whites from becoming GOP stalwarts, making impossible three terms of Bushes. His monkey business with Donna Rice, it is said, dashed his dreams and ours.

But who knows?

In a smart Vanity Fair “Hive” interview conducted by Abigail Tracy, Hart bemoans that “the media has become more intrusive in people’s private lives and the loss of privacy on the part of candidates has caused an awful lot of people of quality to choose not to seek public office.” In this comment, I think Hart has had history pass him by. It was certainly true for awhile, certainly when Bill Clinton became caught in his zipper before the entire nation, but infidelities don’t seem a deal-breaker anymore, in much the same way that divorce or avoidance of military service are no longer disqualifying. It still not fair or pretty, but eyes prying into bedrooms seem beside the point.

Donald Trump (adulterer) didn’t ascend to the Republican Party nomination to oppose Hillary Clinton (married to one) because really gifted politicians were cowed by fears over past indiscretions. Fellow candidate Governor John Kasich is a gifted politician and true conservative who was rejected by GOP voters because he failed to pass a self-destructive purity test, refusing to spurn Obamacare in Ohio or engage in name-calling with the first African-American President. That’s a question of priorities, not prudishness. So is ignoring the amazing gains in household income made by non-rich citizens during the last eight years to support a party dead set on reversing policies that led to such an improvement. In our time, someone’s peccadillo may be an excuse to not vote for someone, but it’s certainly not a driving force.

One exchange from the Q&A:


How has the Democratic Party changed, in particular, since you were seeking the presidential nomination?

Gary Hart:

I was first elected to the Senate in 1974 and re-elected in 1980, and I began to realize that there were shifts, like tectonic plates under the surface, going on and it had to do with the beginning of globalization and the shift of the base of the economy from manufacturing to information. And with that shift, we began to see the Rust Belt, manufacturing states in the Midwest and the Northeast—Ohio, Pennsylvania, upstate New York, and other places—beginning to lose jobs, and communities beginning to decline. Whereas at the same time, you go to the West Coast and it was booming because of Silicon Valley.

This was all beginning in the 1970s. Foreign competition was beginning. Nations, which we had defeated in World War II, just 30 years before, were now exporting to us—cars and tech, and all kinds of consumer goods, which we had previously, in recent years, dominated world markets. So I began to talk about it and think about what the implications of this were. In 1984, I placed a great deal of emphasis on the long-term impacts of these shifts.

My principal competition in the Democratic primary, Vice President [Walter] Mondale, and I ended up dividing the country. I won 25 states and he won 25 states. No journalist to my knowledge ever tried to figure out if there was a pattern there, but there definitely was. I carried almost every state that was benefitting from world trade—the West Coast and other parts of the country—and he got the support of those areas in decline. So it was kind of an earthquake inside the Democratic Party as to who was winning and who was losing.•

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

  1. the milgram experiment
  2. dave hoover lion trainer
  3. steve jobs banned typewriters
  4. chuck connors mayor of chinatown
  5. douglas engelbart est training
  6. golda meir barbra streisand
  7. al goldstein with jerry lewis
  8. when did joe garagiola die?
  9. interview with daniel clowes
  10. charlie brooker black mirror

Donald Trump with Chewbacca and Darth Vader in a Star Wars–themed episode of The Apprentice, 2005

Just after Y2K fears subsided, America was struck by another disaster that shook it to its core, the Fox TV show Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire? The program was a gross two-hour spectacle in which a woman was chosen by a supposedly rich man to become his insta-wife even though they barely knew one another. The broadcast provoked outrage for making a mockery of marriage, a traditional value (and financial arrangement) that had long been credited for holding together the fabric of our society. Despite a gigantic audience, the rerun was cancelled, apologies offered and an annulment hastily arranged.

In 2016, U.S. television is littered with thirsty aspiring brides and bachelors with no body hair nor brain cells. Nobody worries about such things anymore, the flood of programs washing away any resistance to a sideshow of emotionally destroyed people providing cheap content for endless channels. 

In some ways, the loosening of traditional mores is good. Back in 2000, when the Fox pseudo-nuptials took place, no state in the country was close to allowing gay people to marry, and now those unions are legal across the land. How amazing.

The flip side is that the constant shocks of our bread-and-Kardashians culture have numbed us to any sense of civility, even in a Presidential race. It seems acceptable to a surprising number of citizens that the country be in the hands of a Reality TV star who’s a vicious racist and xenophobe, an insomniac tweeter and a vulgar bumper sticker of a man who knows nothing more than simple catchphrases and how to reflexively point fingers. 

That’s our strange, new dichotomy. It’s unreal.

From Edward Luce in the Financial Times:

Every presidential election holds up a mirror to US society. In 2008 it was the hope promised by Barack Obama. This year it is unshockability. Donald Trump’s gaffes are too legion to list. From his reiteration this week that one of his former Miss Universes was too fat, to his criticism a year ago of John McCain’s record as a war prisoner, or his imitation of a disabled reporter, any one would have sunk an earlier candidate. Mr Trump’s immunity to his multitude of offences marks a shift in America’s sensibility. In an age of reality TV we have the reality politician.

Such shock fatigue is not limited to political incorrectness — though the rise of reality TV has inured people to humiliation as entertainment. It also extends to revelations about Mr Trump’s life. In the last month, the Washington Post has run investigative probes on the Trump Foundation, which have shocked political America, but caused barely a ripple beyond the Washington beltway. They allege Mr Trump’s charity, the Trump Foundation, paid off a plaintiff in a lawsuit against one of his businesses, bought portraits of Mr Trump and settled a public suit unrelated to his charity.

He also used it to make a $25,000 donation to Pam Bondi, Florida’s attorney-general, who was investigating whether to prosecute Trump University for fraud. The “university” — another of Mr Trump’s misleadingly titled ventures — faces class action lawsuits. Ms Bondi dropped the probe around the time she received the donation. Mr Trump was fined $2,500 for misusing charitable money. The Post has also detailed millions of dollars Mr Trump claims to have given to charities that were never made.

Again, such revelations would have destroyed a candidate in years past. There is no evidence Mr Trump has been scathed.•



The problem with the idea that humans and machines will work in tandem is that the latter will require the aid of too few of the former. The lucky ones who have those jobs may do quite well, but those who don’t adjust–or are just unlucky–will be left on the outside looking in. Average may be over in terms of demand but not supply. What becomes of those of us left behind?

Zume Pizza, which employs robots rather than chefs, may or not be a success but its methods will certainly succeed in the near future. Hot pies are even easier to make with machines than they are to deliver with drones. From CNBC:

The future has arrived in Mountain View, California. 

Zume Pizza is replacing human chefs with robots, slashing labor costs in half, and reinvesting those savings into higher-quality ingredients to carve out a portion of the $40 billion annual U.S. pizza business.

“What we are doing is leveraging the power of this evolution of automation, these intelligent robots, to put better food on people’s tables,” said Julia Collins, the company’s co-founder and co-CEO.

Zume, which is delivery-only, employs far fewer workers than the average pizza chain, but the employees it does hire — which include sous chefs and software engineers — get full benefits, education subsidies and shares in the business. The company — which made its first hire on Sept. 8, 2015 — has never had an employee quit, which is unusual in the restaurant business, said Collins.

“We’re a co-bot situation,” said Collins. “There are humans and robots collaborating to make better food, to make more fulfilling jobs and to make a more stable working environment for the folks that are working with us.”•



Elon Musk thinks we should stop worrying and learn to love Mars, but our inhospitable neighbor will make sure our ardor goes unrequited. Comparing space colonization to Manifest Destiny isn’t apt, because while we possess immensely better tools than pioneers of the past, the challenges aren’t remotely comparable. 

In a smart Bloomberg View column, Elaine Ou outlines the harsh conditions awaiting immigrants to the stratosphere. She writes of the expensive one-way tickets Musk hopes to make available: “Those who can afford a ticket to Mars are the least likely to want to move there.” True for the most part, though Christopher Columbus wasn’t among the poorest, and he sailed not to escape but to seek. He’ll probably have some modern analogues.

An excerpt:

Artistic renderings of space colonies depict plexiglass domes full of green plants and grow lights. But even if we develop the technology to build pressurized hamster balls, it needs to be recreated on Mars. The first settlers won’t have the luxury of towing a climate-controlled terrarium in the cargo hold of a SpaceX rocket. They’ll have to work the earth and figure out how to live off the fat of the Martian land.

Mars is not exactly prime real estate. The average temperature is negative 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Even during the warmest part of the year, temperatures reach a high of 68 near the equator and still fall to negative 100 at night. Without the dense atmosphere of Earth, temperatures can fluctuate dramatically, causing powerful dust storms that shroud the entire planet.

Also unlike Earth, Mars doesn’t have a global magnetic field. Combined with the thin atmosphere, there isn’t much to shield its inhabitants from the gigantic nuclear reactor that is our sun. Surface conditions on Mars are comparable to life near Chernobyl in the late ’80s, and no amount of Coppertone will protect humans from the deep-space radiation burn. For the most part, we should plan for life on Mars the same way we might plan for life after a nuclear apocalypse. That is, we can expect to live in underground burrows, like rabbits or prairie dogs. The first Martian settlers will be busy building fallout shelters.•

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How do we reconcile a highly automated economy with a free-market one? If jobs of all skill levels emerge that can’t be outsourced beyond our species, we’ll be fine. But if average truly ls over, as Tyler Cowen and others have predicted, we could be in for some turbulence. Everyone and his brother can’t be quickly upskilled, and even if they could, there will be a limit to the number of driverless-car engineers needed. Abundance is great if we can figure out a good distribution system, something America has never perfected. If the macro financial picture is good but the micro is harsh, political solutions may become necessary.

From an PC World interview with The Wealth of Humans author Ryan Avent:

If this abundance of labor is indeed what is sparking global unrest, things will probably get a lot more chaotic before stability returns, unless the world embraces an Amish-style rejection of technology. So how should civilization proceed moving forward? Proposals include universal basic income (UBI), which is quite fashionable in Silicon Valley circles, or shortening the work week to four days.

“Eventually, we’re going to have to change the ways we do things so that people are working less and are also still able to buy the things they need—that would be where redistribution or basic income comes into the picture,” according to Avent. “There’s a couple of things to consider though. People don’t necessarily want to live in a world without work. Even though work is a drag, it creates structure for our day. It creates purpose and meaning. You can imagine that society would be kind of a messy place if nobody ever had to do anything. The other tricky thing is you need to find a way to pay for everything, which means that you have to tax somebody or create common ownership. Something that’s going to require a big political change.”

The big changes may be far in the future. Many of us may be able to wait out the big transformation, but where does that leave the next generation? Are they just completely screwed? As a parent of a young child, I am keenly interested in what skills—if any—will have any value in the decades to come.

“Those with a PhD in computer engineering will probably be okay. I don’t think that’s going to be something that goes away over the next few decades. The skills that will be applicable in a lot of parts of the economy will actually be the softer skills,” Avent says. “The ability to learn from others, to teach yourself new things, to get along in different cultural settings. Basically to be adaptive and be able to pick up new skills. That’s useful now, but in an environment where new sectors and new jobs are constantly be introduced will be critical to being successful.”•



If gambling on Elon Musk’s plan to quickly establish a colony on Mars, it would be wise to bet the under considering it would be the greatest and most challenging undertaking in human history. But the likelihood that it’s at all possible for one well-funded visionary to have a shot at accomplishing such a feat says as a lot not only about science but society as well. Some thoughts:

  • Wealth inequality has made us a weird and lopsided world. Sentences on automation like one recently in the WSJ,[Target Corp.] could take a risk on a new breed of robots from a reclusive billionaire,” no longer seem stunning. The Digital Age has made a few us so overwhelmingly wealthy that individuals can compete with the biggest governments on the grandest projects in for-profit sectors and philanthropy. But there’s a very dark side to such a widening gap, whether its Peter Thiel deciding to a publication into bankruptcy or Palmer Luckey using his Facebook windfall to fund alt-right trolls to game online surveys and plant dubious memes in an effort to enable a Fascist like Donald Trump into the White House. Persons as rich as nations has the potential for great good and bad.
  • Musk’s math in measuring the money needed to fund his first foray to Mars and provide the basic building blocks of a space society may wind up seeming as fanciful as a Paul Ryan budget, but regardless the price tag of such enterprises has fallen tantalizingly low thanks to the diminishing costs of the necessary tools, a culmination of decades of work bearing fruit in our times.
  • Putting humans in space doesn’t make much sense to me within Musk’s time frame. Becoming a multi-planetary species as a hedge against disaster, environmental or otherwise, is understandable, but racing Homo sapiens to Mars doesn’t seem the best plan. A century of robots being dispatched to plumb the planets and experiment with building enclosed habitats and growing food in space. seems the wiser course. But I’m not a Silicon Valley billionaire, so I don’t get a vote.

In the Ars Technica piece “Musk’s Mars Moments,” Eric Berger assesses the feasibility of the audacious plan and the person responsible for it. The writer unsurprisingly believes the Space X founder is underestimating costs but doesn’t dismiss the proposal as impossible, especially if it should develop into a private-public hybrid. The opening:

Elon Musk finally did it. Fourteen years after founding SpaceX, and nine months after promising to reveal details about his plans to colonize Mars, the tech mogul made good on that promise Tuesday afternoon in Guadalajara, Mexico. Over the course of a 90-minute speech Musk, always a dreamer, shared his biggest and most ambitious dream with the world—how to colonize Mars and make humanity a multiplanetary species.

And what mighty ambitions they are. The Interplanetary Transport System he unveiled could carry 100 people at a time to Mars. Contrast that to the Apollo program, which carried just two astronauts at a time to the surface of the nearby Moon, and only for brief sojourns. Moreover, Musk’s rocket that would lift all of those people and propellant into orbit would be nearly four times as powerful as the mighty Saturn V booster. Musk envisions a self-sustaining Mars colony with at least a million residents by the end of the century.

Beyond this, what really stood out about Musk’s speech on Tuesday was the naked baring of his soul. Considering his mannerisms, passion, and the utter seriousness of his convictions, it felt at times like the man’s entire life had led him to that particular stage. It took courage to make the speech, to propose the greatest space adventure of all time. His ideas, his architecture for getting it done—they’re all out there now for anyone to criticize, second guess, and doubt.

It is not everyday that one of the world’s notables, a true difference-maker, so completely eschews caution and reveals his deepest ambitions like Musk did with the Interplanetary Transport System. So let us look at those ambitions—the man laid bare, the space hardware he dreams of building—and then consider the feasibility of all this. Because what really matters is whether any of this fantastical stuff can actually happen.•


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