Air Supremacy, Fermi Question, and Dangers of AI

View from Chaos Manor, Thursday, January 29, 2015



I continue to recover, and part of that is consolidating most operations onto a new fast machine. Still use Windows 7, but changing to Office 10 and various updates.  It seems needlessly complex. Microsoft has never discovered the joys of redundancy when it comes to ways of doing things,  They still want to “save” a kb of memory, as if anyone cares.


Bill Gates on dangers of artificial intelligence: ‘I don’t understand why some people are not concerned’ (WP)

By Peter Holley January 28 at 6:28 PM

Bill Gates is a passionate technology advocate (big surprise), but his predictions about the future of computing aren’t uniformly positive.

During a wide-ranging Reddit “Ask me Anything” session on Wednesday — one that touched upon everything from Gates’s biggest regrets to his favorite spread to lather on bread — the Microsoft co-founder and billionaire philanthropist outlined a future that is equal parts promising and ominous.

Midway through the discussion, Gates was asked what personal computing will look like in 2045. Gates responded by asserting that the next 30 years will be a time of rapid progress.

“Even in the next 10 problems like vision and speech understanding and translation will be very good,” he wrote. “Mechanical robot tasks like picking fruit or moving a hospital patient will be solved. Once computers/robots get to a level of capability where seeing and moving is easy for them then they will be used very extensively.”

He went on to highlight a Microsoft project known as the “Personal Agent,” which is being designed to help people manage their memory, attention and focus. “The idea that you have to find applications and pick them and they each are trying to tell you what is new is just not the efficient model – the agent will help solve this,” he said. “It will work across all your devices.”

The response from Reddit users was mixed, with some making light of Gates’s revelation and others sounding the alarm.

“Clippy 2.0?,” wrote one user.

“Please…more like Clippy 2020,” another replied.

“This technology you are developing sounds at its essence like the centralization of knowledge intake,” a third user wrote. “Ergo, whomever controls this will control what information people make their own. Even today, we see the daily consequences of people who live in an environment that essentially tunnel-visions their knowledge.”

Shortly after, a Reddit user asked Gates how much of an existential threat superintelligent machines pose to humans. The question has been at the forefront of several recent discussions among prominent futurists. Last month, theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking said artificial intelligence “could spell the end of the human race.”

Speaking at the MIT Aeronautics and Astronautics department’s Centennial Symposium in October, Tesla boss Elon Musk referred to artificial intelligence as “summoning the demon.”

I think we should be very careful about artificial intelligence. If I were to guess like what our biggest existential threat is, it’s probably that. So we need to be very careful with the artificial intelligence. Increasingly scientists think there should be some regulatory oversight maybe at the national and international level, just to make sure that we don’t do something very foolish. With artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon. In all those stories where there’s the guy with the pentagram and the holy water, it’s like yeah he’s sure he can control the demon. Didn’t work out.

After gushing about the immediate future of technology on Reddit, Gates aligned himself with Musk and struck a more cautious tone.

“I am in the camp that is concerned about super intelligence,” Gates wrote. “First the machines will do a lot of jobs for us and not be super intelligent. That should be positive if we manage it well. A few decades after that though the intelligence is strong enough to be a concern. I agree with Elon Musk and some others on this and don’t understand why some people are not concerned.”

Once he finished addressing the potential demise of humankind, Gates got back to more immediate questions, like revealing his favorite spread to put on bread.

“Butter? Peanut butter? Cheese spread?” he wrote. “Any of these.”


I am working with John DeChancie on a novel that has some of this trend, It is very much worth while opening a discussion on the consequences and effects of AI. Comments welcome. Should we regulate this? How?


Dr. Pournelle,
So happy to see you are recovering. Your posts and mail are always a highlight in my day.
I’d not thought you’d misquoted the SAC motto the other day, just that you’d tried to re-form it to fit your statement. Considering your CoDominium Marines had adopted it, was pretty sure you knew it.
The other day, I was able to speak with a retired A-10 pilot, and found him in agreement with many of your views on the way the system has been treated by the Air Force. In addition to the direct ground support mission, he also emphasized the utility of the aircraft in CSAR and in tactical scouting. It was his opinion that there is nothing else in any service inventory that can do these jobs as well as an A-10.
While I tend to agree with much of the criticism of the USAF, I really think we should be wary of signs of Iron Law stagnation in the Army, too. As an engineering contractor, my former employers were all involved with several U. S. Army acquisition programs that were rife with blatant waste and borderline fraud, usually driven by flag-ranked Army officers and staffed by current and former Army officers. I learned that those who most frequently stated that “the warfighter” was their prime concern were the most self-serving, cynical, resource wasters of the bunch. The other services (and several of the three-letter agencies) for which I worked on similar programs were not quite as bad.
While I agree with your correspondents who state that lack of political will, leadership, and direction is the cause of the losses of recent wars by the best-equipped fighting forces in history, from my worms-eye view much of the blame also belongs within the services. Eisenhower said it (after it was too late for him to do much about it):
” In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.
We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together. “
I’ll stand with you on the abolition of the USAF only if it comes with complete reform of the Pentagon force and acquisition structure, otherwise, for the Army, a reboot of the USAAF will be as much pearls before swine as it was for Mitchell a century ago (and for many of the same reasons), and we’d be better off to let it alone.

The creation of USAF from USAAF was intended to make possible “the unification of the services,” What it has accomplished is to make our military less effective in its primary mission, which is to win wars. Gaining air supremacy is complicated, and older army types did not understand that.  You do not fight hornets by swatting them one a time, even if you are good at swatting.  The goal is to be able to fly when the other guy cannot, and to eliminate his counter air resources. Goering didn’t understand this, and thus the Battle of Britain, which was a terrible waste of the Luftwaffe in an attempt to remove the RAF long enough for the Wehrmacht to get across the Channel.  The US Army got the wrong message from that battle. 

And later the Army chose wrong missions for the ground support forces.  You can’t do close support without air supremacy, USAAF knew that; the rest of the Army did not. They never learned that once you have air supremacy you get close support.

But when USAAF replaced USAF, the hot pilots forgot that you wanted air supremacy not just to protect you own troops from enemy air power, but also so that you could use air power against the enemy; and once USAF was formed, protecting and preserving missions became of prime importance. The Army got helicopters but never P-47’s, and new aircraft were for air supremacy, but never for ground attacks.  And here we are today.The Air Force puts itself as more important than winning battles.

Gen. LeMay learned one of the nastiest lessons in warfare history in the early days of the 8th Air Force against Germany. Germany was good and we were not, we had little fighter escort, and as a result, LeMay lost a lot of good men and planes correcting that problem. He never forgot, and after WWII, we got SAC which as you’ve mentioned, was the most effective military force the world has ever seen. The whole world knew it, and the bad guys were scared silly of SAC. As LeMay used to say, “Flying fighters are fun, flying bombers are important”.

SAC’s command and control was even more impressive than it’s flying and bombing. In the movie, “A Gathering of Eagles”, Rock Hudson’s character is showing some dignitaries around the mole hole (SAC’s command and control center at Offit AFB). Within seconds, positive control is demonstrated for the entire SAC force including an airborne B52 flying 5000 miles away. All of this with 1960’s technology. No cell phones, no internet, no satellites, just SSB HF radio and hardliner’s. I’ve always thought that was a message to the Soviets, look how quickly we can be ready to kill you.

SAC was the heart of the USAF. The rest were spear carriers. If we have lost that, then you are right, it’s time for USAF to go.

In the 70’s the Army had more ships than the Navy, and more aircraft than the Air Force. The problem was the aircraft were severely limited in gross weight and many of the ships had no propellers and had to be towed.

My Dad’s best friend was a SAC radar navigator (a polite phrase for Nuclear bombardier). About the time I graduated from high school, he was the Air Force program manager for the A10. He gave me a tour of the production line. It was pretty neat. At the front of the line was the titanium bathtub that pilot set in and a small, stapled set of sheets of paper. At the other end was a completed airplane and a locked room of paper. Max did not think the A10 was anti air force, after 20 years of alert duty, ORI’s and ridding BUFF’s, he knew what an air force was for, winning wars. I have a message in 6 parts….

Phil Tharp


Does not fit the Narrative


An article from the AP. Apparently the A-10 does not fit the narrative.

Regards, Charles Adams, Bellevue, NE


“Air Force probing alleged ‘treason’ remark by general By ROBERT BURNS- AP National Security Writer

01/28/2015 5:53 PM | Updated: 01/28/2015 5:53 PM


The Air Force is investigating allegations that the No. 2 commander at its prestigious Air Combat Command told lower-ranking officers that talking to members of Congress about the capabilities of the A-10 attack aircraft is tantamount to treason.”

Given that the USN has operationally deployed a directed energy weapon, I do wonder just how much of a future airpower has in a “if you can detect it, you can kill it” environment.
Sure it is early days for the ship borne laser, but they will only get better and the quoted cost of “ammunition” is $5 (five dollars) a shot.

Kev Metcalfe

Abolish the Air Force

An aircraft so ugly it is beautiful. Like the PBY.
The Air Force attempted to abolish the A10 back in the 90s. During the budget hearings, after Gulf War I.
The Air Force spoke first. The Army followed them and proposed that the Army be given these wonderful aircraft, along with the personnel slots and funding.
The Air Force came back and removed the proposal.

Chuck Pelto



“We know that it was warmer in Viking times than now, and surely that

was not due to Medieval human activities.”

Actually, we don’t know this.

For your perusal:
“Research team suggests European Little Ice Age came about due to reforestation in New World”

Charles Mann talks about this in his book “1491.”  The idea is, Native Americans did a lot of slash and burn, and the Americas were essentially a maintained landscape — one that produced a lot of smoke.  Come the Columbian Exchange, and the subsequent reforestation after the pronounced population decline, there wasn’t as much carbon.  This had global consequences.

Hoping this finds you well,


We may not KNOW it but it’s a very reasonable hypothesis. They cut trees in the 16th Century too, and if CO2 caused the Viking Warm, where did it go when things got cool?



It must be nice to be a Monopoly and be able to change your Service Standards whenever you can not meet the existing standards.

The USPS has changed their delivery standards for First Class Mail effective January 1, 2015. There is, effectively, no such thing as next day delivery for First Class Mail. (If you are mailing to a PO box associated with a USPS Sorting Center, the letter might get put into the PO Box the next day, but don’t count on it.)

The new standard is two to four days.

There is one bright spot. Your mail might be delivered earlier in the day.

I guess it is time for a name change to US Post Office since there is precious little Service left.

Bob Holmes


and I found this while consolidating..


Dr. Pournelle,

The release of Blackship Island was timed perfectly as a self-gifted birthday present, and I am enjoying it immensely. Inexpensive, too, on my Kindle. I think that I’m learning to differentiate between the Niven, Barnes, and Pournelle parts, but it is difficult.

As a result, I will have to re-read the rest of the Avalon series. I’ve avoided buying Kindle copies of books I’ve read in the past — mostly. _The Legend of Blackship Island_ has (*sorry*) re-kindled my interest. I never tire of re-reading books of yours, and of your collaborators, and my paperbacks are wearing out. I’m going to have to break down and buy copies of some of my old friends in electronic format.

Trying not to throw spoilers for others, should you choose to publish this: I ran into a technical edit issue — a young character is presented with a paintball gun, and successfully fires on a target — which is said to have had two darts embedded into it. The ammo doesn’t seem to match the weapon. I don’t know of any other way of bringing this to your attention. I will provide paragraph and kindle location if you wish.

How does one get into the business of providing editing services? I can find errors in other’s work easily. Never in my own. Perhaps I’m in the wrong profession.

Looking forward to the release of the next Tran novel, as well,



I had lunch yesterday with Niven and Barnes,  We are making use of the creatures on Black Ship…  Alas I missed this letter two years ago.  I will try to fix the text…  I suspect this is a collaborator error


Fermi’s Paradox solved?



Roland Dobbins

We need to come back and discuss this.  Interesting.


Freedom is not free. Free men are not equal. Equal men are not free.




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