Republic and Democracy; is AI our Last Invention?

View 842 Wednesday, September 10, 2014

“Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency.”

President Barack Obama, January 31, 2009


A reader sends a link to:

In D.C., a 13-year-old piano prodigy is treated as a truant instead of a star student

By Petula Dvorak

Avery Gagliano is a commanding young pianist who attacks Chopin with the focused diligence of a master craftsman and the grace of a ballet dancer.

The prodigy, who just turned 13, was one of 12 musicians selected from across the globe to play at a prestigious event in Munich last year and has won competitions and headlined with orchestras nationwide.

But to the D.C. public school system, the eighth-grader from Mount Pleasant is also a truant. Yes, you read that right. Avery’s amazing talent and straight-A grades at Alice Deal Middle School earned her no slack from school officials, despite her parents’ begging and pleading for an exception.

“As I shared during our phone conversation this morning, DCPS is unable to excuse Avery’s absences due to her piano travels, performances, rehearsals, etc.,” Jemea Goso, attendance specialist with the school system’s Office of Youth Engagement, wrote in an e-mail to Avery’s parents, Drew Gagliano and Ying Lam, last year before she left to perform in Munich.

This being DC, the fault is entirely due to Congress, which constitutionally has the power and duty of running the District of Columbia. Of course Congress has delegated this in an attempt to turn the District into a democracy; the result is an interesting experiment in just what is wrong with democracy as a form of government.

The alternative would be for Congress to resume control of the District, and impose a system of public education that not only works but which could serve as an example to the States. But perhaps this is a useful thing too: establishing a democracy in Washington, demonstrating just what goes wrong – and that in fact that’s inevitable, and once it happens, there is no way out of it. Not even Congress could reform the District. Congress has wisely established the Capitol Police to serve its own interests, and established some other insulation from the horrible District government.

Sometimes I do think of alternatives. Instead of “demonstration programs” imposed on the States, demonstrations could be done in the District. Some have been, in public transportation, and at one time in management of taxi systems (back in the days when the CD Committee ran the city). We might show what could be done in the arts: even von Mises says that opulence is sometimes an effective foreign policy. None of that would cost much compared to the wreck Washington has made of the public school system throughout the nation. We are variously estimated as from about 20th to as bad as 60th in international ratings of educational effectiveness. At one time we were the envy of the world.

Of course back in those days we had districts that were terrible, and there was this equalitarian notion that something ought to be done about that, and the way to do it was impose Federal wisdom on those silly school districts who misused their liberty. The result was to destroy the school system. We’ve now turned the artillery on the various universities, producing runaway costs with declining educational prowess. Excellence is no longer to be pursued.

If you establish a democracy, you will in due time reap the fruits of a democracy.


Almost all the political philosophers of prior eras concluded that democracy was actually suited only to rather small states. When Jefferson said that the basis of the American experiment was that governments are instituted to secure the rights of the people, and derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, was being profound: but he was also indicating that there have to be limits to government.

Consent of the governed is impossible in societies that value ‘diversity’ more than assimilation, and which seek to incorporate more and more people into the decision making entity. The California education system, once the envy of the world, was seen as inefficient: it left control of the schools to locally elected officials in rather small – and thus inefficient – districts. The key would be to consolidate those districts, and take the personal interests of the taxpayers and parents out of the picture: have huge districts governed by boards elected by people who had no relationship with each other beyond living within an arbitrarily drawn boundary, and who often had no actual common interests. The result was predictable and predicted, but that didn’t slow the disaster.

Where it was once thought shameful that only 90% of those enrolled in high schools actually graduated, that is now seen as an impossible dream. The LA Unified School District is a wreck, with widespread illiteracy, little discipline, and – except for some outstanding schools of which our local school is one – are worse than useless. Moreover the district cannot fire incompetent teachers, despite growing evidence that the simplest and fastest way to improve a rotten school is to fire the worst 10% of teachers and not replace them; disperse their students into other classes. Astounding improvement – 100% and more – often follows. But it will never happen.

George Bernard Shaw, who valued Socialism far more than democracy, once said

Democracy means the organization of society for the benefit and at the expense of everybody indiscriminately and not for the benefit of a privileged class.

A nearly desperate difficulty is the way of its realization is the delusion that the method of securing it is to give votes to everybody, which is the one certain method of defeating it. Adult suffrage kills it dead. Highminded and well-informed people desire it: but they are not in the majority at the polling stations. Mr. Everybody, as Voltaire called him—and we must now include Mrs. Everybody and Miss Everybody—far from desiring the great development of public organization and governmental activity which democracy involves, has a dread of being governed at all…

… I do not see any way out of this difficulty as long as our democrats insist in assuming that Mr. Everyman is omniscient as well as ubiquitous, and refuse to consider the suffrage in the light of facts and common sense.

Perhaps a better way would be to limit the scope of government, and not attempt the great development of public organization and governmental activity. Or perhaps, as we should have learned form ruining the best public school system the world has ever seen, allow local control of local matters, even though it is certain that some of those districts will misuse their freedom to do things we don’t want them doing, or which we see as not as good as what we do, and so we should help them—by force if needed—to see reason. And since we can’t watch them all the time, we appoint an organization of experts, who after all must know better, to manage the whole thing while we get back to watching TV or video games or another beer. And “DCPS is unable to excuse Avery’s absences due to her piano travels, performances, rehearsals, etc.,” Jemea Goso, attendance specialist with the school system’s Office of Youth Engagement tells us. Imagine! An entire Office of Youth Engagement, with an attendance specialist! I wonder how many other school districts have such marvels.

Somehow I think the nation would be better served with opulence and excellence. But that will never happen.

If you establish a democracy you will in due time reap the fruits of a democracy.


Sum Ting Wong. Wi Tu Lo.

The Hazards of Going on Autopilot

By Maria Konnikova

Only one pilot had been able to complete the test without making a mistake. The rest exhibited the same behavior that Casner and Schooler had identified in their earlier study: mind-wandering. The more the pilots’ thoughts had drifted—which the researchers affirmed increased the more automated the flight was—the more errors they made. In most cases, they could detect that something had gone wrong, but they didn’t respond as they should have, by cross-checking other instruments, diagnosing the problem, and planning for the consequences. “We’re asking human beings to do something for which human beings are just not well suited,” Casner said. “Sit and stare.”

The more a procedure is automated, and the more comfortable we become with it, the less conscious attention we feel we need to pay it. In Schooler’s work on insight and attention, he uses rote, automated tasks to induce the best mind-wandering state in his subjects. If anyone needs to remain vigilant, it’s an airline pilot. Instead, the cockpit is becoming the experimental ideal of the environment most likely to cause you to drift off.

At least once a year, and sometimes more often, the New Yorker manages to justify its subscription price with a well done in depth article on a matter of importance. This is one of them.

And we are now about to automate driving…

For more see

Moore’s Law is inexorable. About half the jobs people have including some fairly high level health professional jobs can be done by a robot costing not much (if any) more than a year’s salary of the person at present doing that job. Jobs supervising the robots become a problem.


Hi Jerry,

Read your most recent View entry (August 27) and wished to respond to your off-the-cuff aside about "eternal youth".

First, yes, it was only an aside and you made no attempt to delve into the topic. Second, I’m quite certain you have much greater online research expertise then I, but here’s my amateur contribution to that nonetheless.

Scientists turn skin cells directly into blood

Making pluripotent stem cells from a drop of blood

Young blood makes old mice more youthful

Thirdly, I suppose, while none of this is news to you I’m sure, I suggest the stories above combine into a potential (if only partial) answer to your question(s) regarding the end of work (insert bass, vibrato and echo to taste).

While much research remains, particularly into possible human applications, there seems to me to be a possible social model of – I don’t know, basic stipend? – that could be developed from this. People contributing a regular sample of their blood in order to remain eligible for receipt of their regular stipend payment.

Such a system would accommodate the transition of historic "work" to automated systems while subsidizing the healthy maintenance of humanity and human societal structures. In addition, I presume that you will agree there will always be circumstances where a spontaneously adaptable human could better resolve a short-term or otherwise unusual situation for which a device hasn’t been manufactured and thereby earn added credit to a qualified volunteer’s account.

Not a perfect solution, I know, but the juxtaposition of the two View items seemed worth noting.

Best regards,

Will Brown

The original speculation on Climate Change and Eternal Youth was at  I don’t purport to “have a solution” to the problem of preserving a Republic in these times. I do agree that humanity isn’t finished: robots and artificial intelligence will not be our final invention as a recent book put it. But that at the moment is more faith than analysis.

If you are interested in this subject and have not been following Freefall you probably should be. There is a problem. Freefall is incomprehensible if you go directly to the current page. It is a graphic novel with three new panels every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and it has been going on since 1998. To understand it you must go to the story start and read up to the current page before trying to follow it, and that will take an hour or so a day for a week. It is worth the time investment. This began more as a humorous comic, surely with the intention of examining problems of practical implementation of robots and AI, but over time began to look at the problem in a more serious way. It is quite thought provoking. It is also hilarious, so this is not a painful assignment. It will help if you understand that Sam is not the main character although he is an important part of the narrative; and Sam is neither human nor humanoid under that environment suit.


How Should We Program Computers to Deceive?

By Kate Greene

Placebo buttons in elevators and at crosswalks that don’t actually do anything are just the beginning. One computer scientist has collected hundreds of examples of technology designed to trick people, for better and for worse.

Just outside the Benrath Senior Center in Düsseldorf, Germany, is a bus stop at which no bus stops. The bench and the official-looking sign were installed to serve as a “honey trap” to attract patients with dementia who sometimes wander off from the facility, trying to get home. Instead of venturing blindly into the city and triggering a police search, they see the sign and wait for a bus that will never come. After a while, someone gently invites them back inside.

It’s rare to come across such a beautiful deception. Tolerable ones, however, are a dime a dozen. Human society has always glided along on a cushion of what Saint Augustine called “charitable lies”—untruths deployed to avoid conflict, ward off hurt feelings, maintain boundaries, or simply keep conversation moving—even as other, more selfish deceptions corrode relationships, rob us of the ability to make informed decisions, and eat away at the reserves of trust that keep society afloat. What’s tricky about deceit is that, contrary to blanket prohibitions against lying, our actual moral stances toward it are often murky and context-dependent.

In recent years, it has become common to hear that technology is making us more dishonest—that the Internet, with its anonymous trolls, polished social media profiles, and viral hoaxes, is a mass accelerant of selfish deceit. The Cornell University psychologist Jeffrey Hancock argues that technology has, at the very least, changed our repertoire of lies. Our arsenal of dishonest excuses, for instance, has adapted and expanded to buffer us against the infinite social expectations of a 24/7 connected world. (“Your email got caught in my spam folder!” “On my way!”) But while it’s true, according to Hancock, that the Internet affords us more tools to help manage how people perceive us, he also says that people are often more truthful in digital media than they are in other modes of communication. His research has found that we are more honest over email than over the phone, and less prone to lie on digital résumés than on paper ones. The Internet, after all, has a long memory; what it offers to would-be deceivers in the way of increased opportunity is apparently offset, over the long run, by the increased odds of getting caught.

“GOOD DESIGN IS HONEST.” So holds one of the Ten Principles of Good Design, a set of guidelines laid down by the iconic German industrial designer Dieter Rams in the 1970s. Today, Rams’ principles are printed up and sold on posters, and his most prominent admirer is no less than Jonathan Ive, the head of design at Apple. A good product, Rams’ guidelines continue, “does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept.”

… When honesty is prized so highly, thinking about deception in anything but reflexively negative terms can be difficult. Deceit, after all, is something a good designer doesn’t do. But is all dishonest design necessarily bad?

ADAR’S SIMPLE TAXONOMY OF deception bears some resemblance to that of Thomas Aquinas, who claimed there were three types of lies: malicious lies (meant to do harm; mortal sins), jocose lies (told in fun; pardonable), and officious lies (helpful; pardonable)—a hierarchy that is itself a simplification of St. Augustine’s eight types of lies, established nearly a thousand years before. Separated by centuries, these systems are all attempts to schematize the complex emotional and social landscape of deception in human affairs.

Worth your time.


An obviously partisan source, but the information is true:

No global warming for 17 years 11 months …

… or 19 years, according to a key statistical paper

By Christopher Monckton of Brenchley

Global Warming ‘Pause’ Extends to 17 Years 11 Months

Climate is what we expect. Weather is what we get. For more than a decade the weather was what was expected by the Deniers and not what was expected by the Believers. Explanations from the Believers have been varied.



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




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