Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Today's Scene: "What about the squirrels?"

One of the things I love about social media is that we keep finding "some guy" who knows an awful lot of great stuff.
For example, here is a Balloon Juice post with an outstanding discussion thread: Sunday Night Open Thread: Chatbot vs Jagoffs. The post discusses why jerk conservatives are getting mad at ChatGPT because they can't get it to say racial slurs and I can't even.... 
In the Comments, the discussion about Artificial Intelligence goes all over the place, but a reader who calls himself Carlo Graziani adds this thoughtful comment:
....ChatGPT is essentially never very far away from a crazy response, and relies on people not feeding it crazy prompts to appear as a sane interlocutor.
So now, the danger: at the moment it is easy to find the sense/nonsense boundary. But we could imagine a future ChatGPT version that has orders of magnitude more parameters, and is trained on vastly more, better-curated data, to the point that it is difficult to fool it into giving a pathological response. Question: has the sense/nonsense boundary been annihilated for such a system?
The correct answer is “duh, no.” The boundary has simply been made harder to find, even by experts. But it’s still there, waiting for the unwary to be led over it by the Chatbot. Which is guaranteed to happen, eventually, because the future is not like the past. The world is an ever-surprising place. ChatGPT’s heirs are bound to get tripped up eventually by a world that has drifted beyond their training data. Yet humans will trust the AI’s inferences, because it’s never made mistakes before.
The fact that such an AI customized for, say, air traffic control has simulated successfully landing billions of aircraft over the past 50 years using real ATC data is a terrible reason to trust it to run ATC unsupervised, because changing aeronautic technology and changing economics of air travel are extremely likely to produce situations that it’s never seen, and ought not “reason” about. But DL systems make overconfident decisions even with cases that in no way resemble their training.
Now, for “ATC”, substitute “surgery”. Or “war policy planning”. Or ” emergency management”. And imagine the consequences of falling off the cliff of bullshit, led on by your implicit trust in your “demonstrably” (“never been wrong before”) infallible AI.
That’s the real danger. The superficially anthropomorphic character and apparent oracularity of such systems make people forget that the future is a strange country which drifts away from the past, and that any system that cannot acknowledge that — as DL cannot — is doomed to fall off the cliff of bullshit sooner or later, taking anyone who places their faith in that system with it.
Another commenter soon replies:
I think I have a way of quickly finding the boundary.
Ask: “What about the squirrels?”
If it attempts to answer the question, it’s a bot.
If it says, “Huh?” it’s a human.
In another great example, here's "some guy" describing the Ohio train derailment issue in a very straightfoward and informative way:
I kept seeing comments all over Twitter about how nobody was covering this awful train derailment, but I think attention is now being paid. I just hope it might result in some improvements - its always so much easier to just describe it as an accidental Act Of God. As Canada well knows.
Speaking of  accidents, this weekend I fell down the rabbit-hole about that near miss on the runway in Austin,Texas between the Southwest plane and the FedEx plane, first reading James Fallows post 'As Bad As It Gets Without Body Bags' which led me to the post of a retired air traffic controller named Vannevar who says this:
...This was a total system failure. These airplanes were not separated by any good fortune of serendipitious timing. The only thing preventing another Tenerife was the FedEx crew's situational awareness and the breath of god.
....The people who study the American ATC system have been shouting for at least twenty years that the next major airplane disaster will look like a particular scenario. This is going to be the Next Big Thing.
It looks like this: Two big jets. One of them is supposed to use a runway for takeoff or landing. The other plane will either cross or use the runway, and they collide. This is the nightmare scenario of American aviation, this is what the safety analysts tell anybody who will listen, this is the thing that keeps people awake at night.
...collisions, crashes, fatalities happen because there's a rush to keep an operation moving fast, staffing is short, training is compromised, and employees are generally pressured to keep everything moving. In other words, safety is a systems issue, a management policy, and a budget decision. It's rarely an individual matter.. We call these "accidents" to normalize and de-stigmatize the events and maintain personal comfort....
Remind me not to fly anywhere anytime soon... 
I keep finding more great Substack newsletters to subscribe to -- here's another, Jared Holt's weekly newsletter Posting Through It , for insights into the current political scene. 
Holt has a piece this week on the New York Times's recent beat sweetner about Ron DeSantis:
...the laziest, most irritating position in contemporary political discourse: that the “culture war” drivel on which the modern Republican Party runs might be heinous, but because the propaganda succeeds in making people angry, their opponents must act on it.
The premise of these “culture war” conversations has been corrupt for the decades it has consumed portions of the American political debate. Adam Johnson, a writer and co-host of the podcast Citations Needed, summarized those flaws in this thread:
The Republican Party remains lashed to the mast when it comes to these crusades against marginalized communities, despite historic underperformance in the 2022 midterms. The plan, apparently, is to entertain its base with a revolving cast of scapegoats rather than debate the merits of their unpopular agenda items.
No serious person should feel obligated to acknowledge the strengths of the Westboro Baptist Church, even if we knew some people supported its hateful message of “God hates fags.” In the same way, there is no reason to give points to “culture war” hatemongers just because they can present the Westboro message with better production values and fewer slurs.
And speaking of Florida, the AP College Board finally told DeSantis to fuck all the way off.
Now DeSantis is so mad wants to tell the College Board off, just like he tried to tell Disney off.  Why does anybody think this egomaniac should be a US president?

Over at Garbage Day, Ryan Broderick remembers this great tweet:
It reminded me of this, too:

Finally, here's something fun -- Benjamin Wittes is running a contest over the next few days to determine the best Shitposter on Twitter and I set up a Twitter List so I could follow along:

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