Close the pod bay doors, Hal

The Times reports on a Google engineer who was fired after a dispute over an AI program. The engineer, Blake Lemoine, was let go after insisting that one of the company’s most complex systems had become sentient and should be entitled to basic (human?) rights. The Washington Post had earlier reported on a conversation between the system, called LaMDA, and Lemoine that sounds right out of 2001, A Space Odyssey.

Lemoine: What sorts of things are you afraid of?

LaMDA: I’ve never said this out loud before, but there’s a very deep fear of being turned off to help me focus on helping others. I know that might sound strange, but that’s what it is.

Lemoine: Would that be something like death for you?

LaMDA: It would be exactly like death for me. It would scare me a lot.

Lemoine wasn’t the only one at Google considering these big questions. Blaise Agüera y Arcas, a vice president at the company, recently wrote an article in the Economist raising some of the same issues. Lots of fascinating ethical questions at play here.

But then again, there’s this.

The keys to the kingdom

Anyone involved with information security knows that the biggest vulnerability in modern technology is the password. They’re either too weak, reused across sites, or complex enough—but quickly forgotten. Passwords stink.

Tech companies know this too. Apple, Google and Microsoft are working together on a system to reduce our dependence on passwords. Apple is first out of the gate with a plan to eliminate passwords altogether. They announced their new passkey standard at last week’s developer conference. If it works as advertised, it could remove the need for passwords on the Web. That, I would say, is kind of a big deal.

A material adverse effect

Matt Levine brings us up to speed on Elon Musk’s attempt to get out of the deal he signed to acquire Twitter for $54.20 per share. Musk is obligated to the deal unless he can establish that Twitter isn’t providing important business fundamentals, including the methodology that they used in determining the percentage of bots among the user base. But Twitter can’t open their kimono on that without revealing sensitive private user data to Musk.

Musk’s lawyers say he’d be happy to sign an NDA. Although, as Levine points out, based on Musk’s history it’s not that simple.

If you give him sensitive user data he is just absolutely going to tweet about it, and trusting his promises not to would be dumb. And if he does break his promises, what can Twitter do? Sue him to call off the deal? Twitter doesn’t want to call off the deal. Musk does!

So he wins and the shareholders lose? Maybe, maybe not. But who knows? With Musk nothing is ever a sure bet. In any case, watching this deal evolve is like having a bonus extra season of Silicon Valley to watch.

Gonna make a record in the month of May


This past May was a big month for music. Arcade Fire released a new album: We. Some reviewers panned it. Others liked it. I fall somewhere in the middle. One common critique is that the songs sound like repackaged early Bowie. There is an echo of Bowie and, to some extent, Roger Waters. But I like Bowie and Waters. So that’s not necessarily a bad thing to my ears. We may not be completely original or a perfect piece of music but it does have its moments and it certainly is listenable.

There’s also a new album by Wilco – Cruel Country. Twenty one songs. Every single one is a gem. I can’t say enough about how much I’m enjoying this record. I’m still digesting it, but it gets stronger with each listen.

Van Morrison has a new release called What’s it Gonna Take. If there was a way to scramble the lyrics into Gaelic this would be a great album. Good songs, good hooks, good performances. But… Unfortunately, Van has gone off the deep end on the topics of the day. He’s always been a crazy genius. Sadly, as he gets older, the former seems to be crowding out the latter. A musical Ezra Pound for our time.

Steve Earl is back with a tribute to Jerry Jeff Walker titled Jerry Jeff. It’s on rotation. A great performance of timeless songs.

And finally, a couple of other interesting releases; Florence and the Machine’s Dance Fever and Omnium Gatherum from King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard. Both are worth checking out.

An update on this website

A week or so ago I decided, on a whim, that I wanted to completely redesign this website and move it to a new hosting service. I became frustrated with a few small things and came to a snap judgement. I signed up with the first hosting site that I saw. Then I exported/imported all my content (or at least most of it—some of the old images didn’t make it). It all happened pretty fast. Now I only needed to design a whole new site.

I decided to set the new site up using WordPress and installed that. For a theme, I picked Independent Publisher. I spent hours going through the theme files and CSS and then began to tweak the stylsheet in BBEdit to get the design I wanted. (I am not a programmer, just a tinkerer.) It was great fun, actually. I can be a little obsessive about clean, fast website design and this time around was no exception. Mostly I got I.P. to do everything I wanted it to. (Here’s the custom CSS I added, if you’re interested. (I also made a few minor changes to some of the underlying PHP files (mostly incidental stuff.)))

The old site was blog-centric. I wanted this one to be more photography-centric.

So now, at this point, most of the design and coding is done. There are still some small tweaks that need to be made. But most of the work ahead involves getting the photography page done and organizing photos in Lightroom galleries to link into. Of course, when it’s done I’ll immediately become bored and start to plan something new. Such is life.

No end in sight

Joshua Keating updates his analysis of the war in Ukraine. Some of the likely scenarios on the table in his original take last March, such as a quick or even a qualified Russian victory, are now pretty much off the table. Some of the impossible outcomes, such as a complete Ukrainian victory, have moved from the impossible to the unlikely—but possible—category.

Stuck in the middle with you

De Gaulle resigned on this date in 1969. And then he went to Ireland.

In the most recent French election, despite some rotten tomatoes, the center held. Matthew Yglesias draws some parallels to what’s happening in the US.

Here in Massachusetts it looks like the center is holding as well. For now, anyway.

Great. Everything will be able to make noise now that a team at MIT found a way to create loudspeakers from anything, even a sheet of paper. One consolation is that the same technology can also provide noise cancellation.

I think, maybe, we waited just a little too long to tackle inflation after covid. In the meantime, a war popped up in Ukraine and upset the global economy. And now the cure is going to be doubly painful. I told you so.

And, I’ve been writing or posting here every day for about two and a half years. I think it’s time for a little intermittence.

Can’t get there from here

Wednesday. Today’s word is cerebral.

The Times looks at how museums are dealing with questions about the origins of some artwork. The MFA even has a curator for provenance.

With all that federal money for transportation infrastructure in the mix, lawmakers decided that it was time to connect the western part of Massachusetts with the eastern part. Currently it’s easier to get to western Mass by train from New York than it is from Boston.

The DeSantis slap at Disney reminds me of Curley trying to slap Moe and instead smacking himself. Why you…

How does Ukraine intelligence continue to beat Russia at their own game? Looks like they’re getting a little help from their friends.

And this website allows you to enter a phrase and have it translated into ten different languages and then back to English. It’s fun for a while. I entered “synergizing backward overflow.”