FLASH 27 February 2015 | publicatii - Politica La Est

FLASH 27 February 2015

27 February 2015
1. I have read about the invasion of the robots in the present day. “London Review of Books” has recently published a review of Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee's book - The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies, Norton, 2014. In fact, the review equally deals with another book - Tyler Cowen, Average Is Over: Powering America beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation, Plume, 2014. Under the title The Robots Are Coming, the two  delve into a fascinating field. More exactly, the entering of humanity in another era, a new revolution, let us call it computational, in which the power of the human mind is significantly enhanced through the newest technological advancements. The author of the review, John Lancaster, from the very beginning offers to us a sample of the force of this huge revolution: „In 1996, in response to the 1992 Russo-American moratorium on nuclear testing, the US government started a programme called the Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative. The suspension of testing had created a need to be able to run complex computer simulations of how old weapons were ageing, for safety reasons, and also – it’s a dangerous world out there! – to design new weapons without breaching the terms of the moratorium. To do that, ASCI needed more computing power than could be delivered by any existing machine. Its response was to commission a computer called ASCI Red, designed to be the first supercomputer to process more than one teraflop. A ‘flop’ is a floating point operation, i.e. a calculation involving numbers which include decimal points (these are computationally much more demanding than calculations involving binary ones and zeros). A teraflop is a trillion such calculations per second. Once Red was up and running at full speed, by 1997, it really was a specimen. Its power was such that it could process 1.8 teraflops. That’s 18 followed by 11 zeros. Red continued to be the most powerful supercomputer in the world until about the end of 2000.I was playing on Red only yesterday – I wasn’t really, but I did have a go on a machine that can process 1.8 teraflops. This Red equivalent is called the PS3: it was launched by Sony in 2005 and went on sale in 2006. Red was only a little smaller than a tennis court, used as much electricity as eight hundred houses, and cost $55 million. The PS3 fits underneath a television, runs off a normal power socket, and you can buy one for under two hundred quid. Within a decade, a computer able to process 1.8 teraflops went from being something that could only be made by the world’s richest government for purposes at the furthest reaches of computational possibility, to something a teenager could reasonably expect to find under the Christmas tree.” Going through the review, one realizes to what technological advancements we owe the significant growth of the human computational capability, but also how advanced computer programming is. The author writes  „In parallel with computing power having grown exponentially and become vastly cheaper, humans have also got better at programming. A high-profile piece of evidence to that effect came in 2011, with the public victory of a project called Watson, run by IBM. The idea behind Watson was to build a computer that could understand ordinary language well enough to win a popular TV quiz show called Jeopardy!, playing against not just ordinary contestants, but record-holding champions.[1]  This would be, as Brynjolfsson and McAfee say, ‘a stern test of a computer’s pattern matching and complex communication abilities’, much more demanding than another IBM project, the chess computer Deep Blue, which won a match against the world champion Gary Kasparov in 1997. Chess is vulnerable to brutecomputational force; I have a program on my smartphone which can easily beat the best chess player in the world. General knowledge-based quizzes, particularly ones like Jeopardy! with a colloquial and allusive component, are much less easily solved by sheer computing power.” Finally, in order to demonstrate the utility and significance of the revolution we are currently going through, the author gives his readers the example of „Google translate”: ”The process can be seen at work in Google’s translation software. Translate was a page on Google into which you could type text and see it rendered into a short list of other languages. When the software first launched, in 2006, it was an impressive joke: impressive because it existed at all, but a joke because the translations were wildly inaccurate and syntactically garbled. If you gave up on Google Translate at that point, you have missed many changes. The latest version of Translate comes in the form of a smartphone app, into which you can not only type but also speak text, and not just read the answer but also have it spoken aloud. The app can scan text using the phone’s camera, and translate that too. For a language you know, and especially with text of any length, Translate is still somewhere between poor and embarrassing – though handy nonetheless, if you momentarily can’t remember what the German is for ‘collateralised debt obligation’ or ‘haemorrhoid’. For a language you don’t know, it can be invaluable; and it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on the marvel that you can install on your phone a device which will translate Malay into Igbo, or Hungarian into Japanese, or indeed anything into anything, for free.Google Translate hasn’t got better because roomfuls of impecunious polymaths have been spending man-years copying out and cross-referencing vocabulary lists. Its improvement is a triumph of machine learning. The software matches texts in parallel languages, so that its learning is a process of finding which text is statistically most likely to match the text in another language. Translate has hoovered up gigantic quantities of parallel texts into its database.” We are astounded at what performances lie ahead (being able to have a conversation with another person in whichever language due to a translation application or listening to radio/TV wherever on the planet). Where are we today and where are we headed? Here is what the author has to say: „So what’s going to happen now? Your preferred answer depends on your view of history, though it also depends on whether you think the lessons of history are useful in economics. The authors of these books are interested in history, but plenty of economists aren’t; a hostility to history is, to an outsider, a peculiarly strong bias in the field. It’s connected, I suspect, to an ambition to be considered a science. If economics is a science, the lessons of history are ‘in the equations’ – they are already incorporated in the mathematical models. I don’t think it’s glib to say that a reluctance to learn from history is one of the reasons economics is so bad at predicting the future.One historically informed view of the present moment says that the new industrial revolution has already happened. Computers are not a new invention, yet their impact on economic growth has been slow to manifest itself. Bob Solow, another Nobel laureate quoted by Brynjolfsson and McAfee, observed as long ago as 1987 that ‘we see the computer age everywhere, except in the productivity statistics.’ The most thorough and considered version of this argument is in the work of Robert Gordon, an American economist who in2012 published a provocative and compelling paper called ‘Is US Economic Growth Over?’ in which he contrasted the impact of computing and information technology with the effect of the second industrial revolution, between 1875 and 1900, which brought electric lightbulbs and the electric power station, the internal combustion engine, the telephone, radio, recorded music and cinema.[3]  As he points out in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, it also introduced ‘running water and indoor plumbing, the greatest event in the history of female liberation, as women were freed from carrying literally tons of water each year’. /.../Computers replaced human labour and thus contributed to productivity, but the bulk of these benefits came early in the Electronics Era. In the 1960s, mainframe computers churned out bank statements and telephone bills, reducing clerical labour. In the 1970s, memory typewriters replaced repetitive retyping by armies of legal clerks. In the 1980s, PCs with word-wrap were introduced, as were ATMs that replaced bank tellers and barcode scanning that replaced retail workers.These were real and important changes, and got rid of a lot of drudgery. What happened subsequently, though, with the impact of Moore’s law and miniaturisation, was a little different:The iPod replaced the CD Walkman; the smartphone replaced the garden-variety ‘dumb’ cellphone with functions that in part replaced desktop and laptop computers; and the iPad provided further competition with traditional personal computers. These innovations were enthusiastically adopted, but they provided new opportunities for consumption on the job and in leisure hours rather than a continuation of the historical tradition of replacing human labour with machines.” (See John Lancaster, The Robots are Coming, London Review of Books , vo 37, no.5, March 15, 2015-http://www.lrb.co.uk/v37/n05/john-lanchester/the-robots-are-coming)
2. THE NATO WEAPON-SHARING PLAN OF THE USA. The observers of the Ukraine crisis have also been interested in the Western community's reaction to Russia's illegitimate actions, i.e. the annexation of Crimea based on an illegal referendum. The Western reaction also includes the measures adopted at the NATO summit in Wales (September 2014) – deployment of deterrent forces at the Eastern border of the alliance (including in Romania) and the creation of a new a rapid reaction force. NATO members have also agreed to gradually allocate 2 percent of their GDP on defense. Romania, for example, has already assumed a plan meant to assure it reaches the 2 percent threshold by 2017 and maintains it at this level for a ten-year period. The initiatives meant to assure hard capabilities for NATO have become highly necessary in order to uphold international law and in order to prevent and punish those who break it. Pax Americana has facilitated the materialization of the measures adopted at the NATO summit. A military publication, „Defense News„, has briefly informed on February 4th: „  The US  State Department and the Pentagon's office for selling military equipment to foreign allies announced on Wednesday that they are embarking on a program that will for the first time allow NATO members to acquire and share American military hardware among members of the alliance. At a time when defense budgets among most NATO nations are expected to be flat at best for the foreseeable future, NATO has been experimenting with pooling and co-development arrangements through its Smart Defense program as a way to share costs and risks in developing and fielding new weapons systems.” Vice Admiral Joseph Rixey, director of the Defense Security Cooperation Agency within the Pentagon has declared that such a process is without precedent, but a two-year test will enable the identification of the optimum procedures and methods of implementing this program. There will be initiatives that "will involve joint procurement of defense articles and services through a lead country with the potential for flexible retransfers among members of the group." Actually, the program resembles similar ones adopted by the US during World War II, not to mention Roosevelt's infamous ”Arsenal of Democracy”. (See Paul McLeary, Washington Unveils Weapon-Sharing Plan, Defense News, February 4, 2015- http://www.defensenews.com/story/defense/2015/02/04/nato-weapons-sales-stste-department/22871267/ )
3. What is China's strategic nightmare? China's significant economic growth – unprecedented in human history – has had a significant impact on the global strategic situation. As a result of China's high economic profile, Asia is considered to be at the centre of world politics in the 21st century, leaving Europe behind, a Europe that is losing its systemic centrality after 500 years of uncontested domination. The most visible consequence is the strategic reorientation of the global actors. The United States has officially announced the „Asian pivot” as part of its grand strategy – an orientation introduced by president Obama at the end of 2011 and implemented incrementally since then. Russia is even considering moving its capital to Vladivostok, while devising a policy to accomodate to the new strategic situation, and Japan intends to reform its economic and defence sectors, with a clear purpose to counterbalance China's growing strategic profile. It is important to decipher what will be, from China's perspective, the biggest strategic challenge. It is a legitimate question, given the fact that the other actors position themselves according to China's perspectives. It has been said up until recently that the “string of pearls” strategy (which represented a control over the strategic route of China's maritime access to the Middle East and Europe) is Beijing's main strategic orientation. It has also been said that China's interest in the ”New Silk Road” is yet another means to reach the same objective, this time via a ground route. Monitoring the scholarly work on China is essential for identifying its strategic objectives and if we are to offer a relevant example this would be “Dragon Eye”, a section of the American publication The National Interest. Its latest issue speaks about the fact that “China’s biggest fear“ is the “US-India encirclement”. Referring to a study regarding naval strategy written by Chinese experts, we read that “While generally cautious and measured in its tone, this analysis by Chinese Navy researchers does make note of a number of alarming trends with regard to Sino-Indian maritime relations. They assert that China began to take notice of Indian maritime strategy in earnest a decade ago when New Delhi moved to fortify the Andaman and Nicobar island groups near the Strait of Malacca, as well as announcing India’s intention to move forward with a sea-based nuclear deterrent and to pursue “军力投送” [military power projection]. These analysts highlight that India is planning to field three aircraft carrier groups and characterize Indian maritime strategy as an “显扩展性的海权战略” [obviously expansionist maritime strategy]. This Indian strategy constitutes a potential threat to what the authors term in the article’s opening sentence as “中国的远洋生命线” [China’s far seas life line].” The Chinese experts analyse India's maritime orientation, which they consider hostile to Beijing's interests, in close connection to the latest changes in the Japanese and American maritime strategies. Utterly sensitive vis-á-vis the access to the Indian Ocean, the authors speak of the fear regarding China's strategic encirclement by the United States and India:  Indian officials and the Indian press have expressed extremely obvious hostile intentions toward China.’ They note that a military conflict between China and India is ‚不堪设想’ [too ghastly to contemplate], but that Beijing must still be alert to this possibility. For China, these authors explain, ‚India’s ‘Look East’ strategy will have a huge impact on our country’s geopolitical security.’  Taking this point a step further, the authors contend that the“Look East” strategy may “join the confluence” of Japan’s ‚南下战略’  [Down South Strategy] and America’s  ‚Rebalance to the Asia-Pacific.’  ‚[If these three strategies] were coordinated, in effect encircling China’s maritime geopolitical environment, this would constitute even greater harm to our country’s maritime security and its development of sea power.’ These Chinese naval analysts fret that India and the U.S. have found a common language in discussing the ‚ China threat theory’ and their ‚相互配合’ [mutual coordination] in places such as the South China Sea ‚directly threatens our country’s strategic interests, squeezing our country’s strategic space’ .” Given China's policy of developing economic ties to India, the Chinese experts do not have an easy task of deciphering the US-India-China triangle:” it is worth noting that China is devoting considerable intellectual and diplomatic effort to develop major trade ties with India. The general effort by Beijing to relentlessly expand commercial opportunities with its neighbors is broadly understood, but some further details are revealed in a mid-2014 study published in 亚洲纵横 [Asia & Africa Review] of the Chinese State Council on the topic of building an economic corridor that unites Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar /BCIM/.” India prefers a Northern route to connect East Asia with South Asia and it seems that the US prefers the New Delhi option, for economic reasons. The analysis closes as follows: „Perhaps Washington should devote some of its diplomatic energies to facilitating greater economic development and integration among the BCIM countries, rather than fanning the flames and cynically seeking to profit from growing geopolitical rivalry between the rising Asian giants. „(See Lyle J. Goldstein, China’s Biggest Fear: US-Indian Encirclement, http://nationalinterest.org/feature/chinas-biggest-fear-us-indian-encirclement-12225?page)
4. Will we be able to control artificial intelligence or will we be dominated by it? The developments achieved in the field of artificial intelligence – a path opened by Alan Turing by decodifying the german enigma during Worl War II – has raised the troubling question: will the human race be eventually dominated by its own creation? On a blog that deals in an informed and guarded manner with this subject, we find a post: „  If humans go on to create artificial intelligence, will it present a significant danger to us? Several technical luminaries have been open and clear with respect to this possibility: Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX, has equated it to ‚summoning the demon’; Stephen Hawking warns it could spell the end of the human race’; and Bill Gates agrees with Musk, placing himself in this ‚concerned’  camp.Their worry is that once the AI is switched on and gradually assumes more and more responsibility in running our brave, newfangled world—all the while improving upon its own initial design—what’s to stop it from realizing that human existence is an inefficiency or perhaps even an annoyance? Perhaps the AI would want to get rid of us if, as Musk has suggested, it decided that the best way to get rid of spam email ‚is to get rid of humans’  altogether. „ The essential question is whether artificial intelligence is endowed with a moral sense and the points of view are quite diverse:„As of now, Soares thinks we’re very far from an adequate theory of how an intelligence beyond ours will think. One of the main hurdles he highlights is programming the AI’s level of self-trust, given that it will never be able to come up with a mathematically certain proof that one decision is superior to another. Program in too much doubt, and it will never decide how to effectively modify itself; program in too much confidence, and it will execute poor decisions rather than searching for better ones. Coming up with the right balance between paralyzing insecurity and brash self-assurance is spectacularly complicated. And it may not be possible to task an AI with solving this problem itself, because it may require a deeper understanding of the theoretical problems than we currently have; it may even be unwise to try, because a super AI may reason that it’s in its own interest to deceive us.This is why figuring out how to make machines moral first, perhaps before allowing them to self-modify, ‚is of critical importance,’ writes Soares. ‚For while all other precautions exist to prevent disaster, it is value learning which could enable success.’But to some other AI researchers, precautions are not just unnecessary, they’re preposterous. ‚These doomsday scenarios are logically incoherent at such a fundamental level that they can be dismissed as extremely implausible,’ writes Richard Loosemore, in an article for the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. He called out the Machine Intelligence Research Institute specifically for peddling unfounded paranoia. Their restrictions would ‚require the AI to be so unstable that it could never reach the level of intelligence at which it would become dangerous,’ writes Loosemore.” One of the readers comments: „ There are no safe guards against AI. There will never be safe guards against AI. The lid of Pandora's box has been cracked open and human hubris (like yours) will insure that it is flung wide open. This article talks a lot about recombinant DNA. DNA itself is code/ programming; self replicating nano technology. AI science will be combined (mechanically and biologically) with DNA science. The outcome will be a whole slew of "superior" beings. Since mankind is flawed mankind cannot make an flawless system. What we create will inherently have our failings; especially our proclivity to violence and no respect for other forms of life. We think nothing of stepping on ants or swatting flies. An intelligence created by us and thousands, even millions and billions of times more powerful than us will think nothing of swatting us.” (See Brian Gallagher, Will Humans Be Able to Control Computers That Are Smarter Than Us, posted on Feb 23 , 2015-http://nautil.us/blog/will-humans-be-able-to-control-computers-that-are-smarter-than-us )
                                         MIHAIL E. IONESCU


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