Jared Cohen

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If Alphabet Chairman Eric Schmidt truly believes that his company’s long-term goal is to turn out machines that are under human influence, I would have to assume he hasn’t been to the office very much lately. In what sounds like a PR offensive, Schmidt and co-writer Jared Cohen have penned a Time essay asserting that when it comes to Artificial Intelligence, humans will keep their hands on the wheel, if not literally. As if anyone can promise that once AI makes more major strides.

An excerpt:

Based on the work of DeepMind, which is involved in AI research, we believe that makers of AI should adhere to the following principles. First, AI should benefit the many, not the few. In practical terms, AI has the potential to help the doctor and the patient, the business and the employee. As a society, we should make use of this potential and ensure that AI always aims for the common good.

Second, AI research and development should be open, responsible and socially engaged. As we continue developing AI, new questions will continue to arise, and we will need to answer them collaboratively, including everyone from engineers and scientists to philosophers and activists. In particular, those whose industries will change as a result of AI will need to be part of this global conversation.

Third, those who design AI should establish best practices to avoid undesirable outcomes. Is a system doing what we need? Are we training it using the right data? Have we thought through the way any system might yield unintended side effects—and do we have a plan to correct for this? There should be verification systems that evaluate whether an AI system is doing what it was built to do.

We are building tools that humans control.•

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Just because Julian Assange is a megalomaniacal creepbag doesn’t mean he’s wrong about everything. He’s most certainly not. In a Newsweek excerpt from his book When Google Met Wikileaks, Assange recounts his 2011 meeting with that company’s Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and Ideas Director Jared Cohen, and his subsequent realization that the search giant enjoys a cozy relationship with the inner sanctums of D.C.’s biggest power brokers, even the White House. I don’t doubt that Google, the de facto Bell Labs of our time and likely in possession of more information than any other entity in the history of Earth, is indeed ensconced in politics (and vice versa), though I would caution against thinking the Silicon Valley behemoth is some sort of shadow government. In his black-and-white way of viewing the world, Assange needs his foes to be as massive as his ego, and he wants to see Google as an indomitable force shaping our world. While it has some influence–and I wish corporations didn’t have any entrée into such quarters–I think Assange is overestimating the company’s importance as a world-maker to inflate his own. In fact, if Google is mainly a search company a decade or two from now, it won’t have much sway at all–it’ll probably be in a lot of trouble. A passage about Assange’s research into Cohen’s role in geopolitics:

“Looking for something more concrete, I began to search in WikiLeaks’ archive for information on Cohen. State Department cables released as part of Cablegate reveal that Cohen had been in Afghanistan in 2009, trying to convince the four major Afghan mobile phone companies to move their antennas onto U.S. military bases. In Lebanon, he quietly worked to establish an intellectual and clerical rival to Hezbollah, the ‘Higher Shia League.’ And in London he offered Bollywood movie executives funds to insert anti-extremist content into their films, and promised to connect them to related networks in Hollywood.

Three days after he visited me at Ellingham Hall, Jared Cohen flew to Ireland to direct the ‘Save Summit,’ an event co-sponsored by Google Ideas and the Council on Foreign Relations. Gathering former inner-city gang members, right-wing militants, violent nationalists and ‘religious extremists’ from all over the world together in one place, the event aimed to workshop technological solutions to the problem of ‘violent extremism.’ What could go wrong?

Cohen’s world seems to be one event like this after another: endless soirees for the cross-fertilization of influence between elites and their vassals, under the pious rubric of ‘civil society.’ The received wisdom in advanced capitalist societies is that there still exists an organic ‘civil society sector’ in which institutions form autonomously and come together to manifest the interests and will of citizens. The fable has it that the boundaries of this sector are respected by actors from government and the ‘private sector,’ leaving a safe space for NGOs and nonprofits to advocate for things like human rights, free speech and accountable government.

This sounds like a great idea. But if it was ever true, it has not been for decades. Since at least the 1970s, authentic actors like unions and churches have folded under a sustained assault by free-market statism, transforming ‘civil society’ into a buyer’s market for political factions and corporate interests looking to exert influence at arm’s length. The last forty years have seen a huge proliferation of think tanks and political NGOs whose purpose, beneath all the verbiage, is to execute political agendas by proxy.”

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From Liz Gannes’ All Things D article about Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen’s new book about our technological future:

“Written with Google Ideas director Jared Cohen, The New Digital Age was released today. It’s dense, though readable, and floats between visions of a hologram-and-robot-enhanced future for the developed world, and scarily specific predictions of how dictators will get hold of technology and use it for evil.

‘The Internet is the largest experiment involving anarchy in history,’ Schmidt and Cohen write, as they forecast all sorts of ‘painful liminal periods’ while things like privacy, citizenship and reporting get figured out as the next five billion people come online, joining the two billion that already are.

Schmidt and Cohen are not going to spark a social movement or even an op-ed war, a la that other recent tech exec book, Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. But they did manage to write a surprisingly non-corporate book that talks about Twitter at least 10 times as much as it does about Google’s driverless cars.”

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It’s difficult sometimes to think about futuristic living, all sleek and clean and perfect. Yesterday morning I sat down on a subway car next to a guy who smelled like a toilet had backed up onto a corpse in the bathroom of a diarrhea factory. Then he started snoring. 

But some among us can see a future, or something resembling it, that is more orderly. From a Foreign Policy piece about the predictions in Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen’s just-published book, The New Digital Age:

Futuristic living:

Your apartment is an electronic orchestra, and you are the conductor. With simple flicks of the wrist and spoken instructions, you can control temperature, humidity, ambient music and lighting. You are able to skim through the day’s news on translucent screens while a freshly cleaned suit is retrieved from your automated closet because your calendar indicates an important meeting today. You head to the kitchen for breakfast and the translucent news display follows, as a projected hologram hovering just in front of you, using motion detection, as you walk down the hallway…. Your central computer system suggests a list of chores your housekeeping robots should tackle today, all of which you approve. It further suggests that, since your coffee supply is projected to run out next Wednesday, you consider purchasing a certain larger-size container that it noticed currently on sale online. Alternatively, it offers a few recent reviews of other coffee blends your friends enjoy.”

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