Link Roundup, 3/15/2017

From Aeon: Our bodies may be the key to understanding the limits of AI.

From Bloomberg: The material ways that climate change is impacting Alaska.

From Gizmodo: How Russian hackers compromised Yahoo.

From Wired: How humans created, and may ultimately destroy, the banana.

From New York Magazine: Climate change realities are starting to effect Republicans.

For your entertainment, Whitey Morgan’s cover of Waitin’ ‘Round to Die


  1. This is an interesting idea: the U.S. should use its patent rights to reduce the price of drugs.

    Why does the U.S. have patent rights? Because much of the research for new drugs is done on the public dime.

    Why doesn’t the NIH do this? Because it doesn’t. But it could.

    The NGO mentioned in the article, Knowledge Ecology International (KEI), looks quite interesting to me, perhaps offering new POVs for arguments that become circular and non-productive when it comes to solving problems.

    They won a MacArthur award.

    1. Add to the fact that the government never uses its “step in”power, it has prohibited itself from negotiating drug prices. Figure there’s an “invisible hand” at work here?

      Damn straight there is. Only problem is it’s not the one to which Adam Smith was in reference.

    2. And a bit more: by not exercising our “step-in” powers, we are essentially allowing other countries to freeload on the American taxpayer. You see, they have not stupidly prevented themselves from getting the best deals. Big Pharma says,”That’s fine. We’ll give you a fair price, and charge the shit out of the US government to make up for it.”

    3. EJ

      Interestingly, Adam Smith was of the opinion that the free market could never work in healthcare or education, due to the shared-stream costs involved.

      Then again, the founder of an academic field can’t be expected to foresee everything within it. Smith may have been wrong.

      1. Actually, I think we was probably correct – at least from the perspective of his time. The healthcare ‘market’ is really no market at all – as Chris mentioned in an earlier posting. It becomes downright corrupt when private business and government collude. This is *exactly* what is happening with drug pricing. But nobody says a word. We’re just too busy with wiretapping and border walls. During the last administration we were too busy with other bullshit. Anything about the issue in the ‘new’ ACA replacement plan? Ah, nope. It’s appalling, and it’s bipartisan.

      2. It’s (AHCA) bi-partisan? Please state how. Democrats have had no input. The bill has been rushed through 2 committees without CBO scoring and in a mere 25 days. The ACA took over a year for hearings, Democrats accepted 160 GOP amendments. This AHCA? No Democratic input. Democrats fought tooth and nail in 2003 against the GOP deal with Big Pharma to eliminate any authority by Medicare to bid medications. I am really curious what basis you are using to support your statement that this replacement plan is bi-partisan. Or, did I misunderstand your comment?

      3. I would argue that point with you from the standpoint of sheer numbers but I’m not sure what you mean? Surely the fact that over 20 million people got health coverage is not “nothing”; nor people who were previously denied health coverage due to a pre-existing condition, was not “nothing”; nor was the fact that caps were removed for lifetime benefits; or that insurance providers had to spend at least 80% of their premium revenue on health services or return the difference to their subscribers, not “nothing; or that all policies had to cover ten basic health care necessities rather than offer pitifully thin coverage was not “nothing”; just off the top of my head…I imagine those who are unhappy are those whose unearned income over $250K (married) was taxed; or that big pharma brand name drugs were taxed; and medical device manufacturers were taxed…and they still made very healthy profits….and, btw, these taxes not only helped finance preventative care but also provided a revenue stream for Medicare that extended its life by another decade….

        No, I’d say you and I have a very different POV on this subject Fifty, but I’m interested in why you think that president and that health care plan did “nothing”.

      4. And furthermore, have you looked at the political contributions from big pharma Lately?

        Listen, mime: I love you like a sister, bit for long so you remain such a blind apologist for all things associated with “your party”, you will remain incapable of actually solving issues born of decades of utter incompetence on both sides of the aisle.

      5. Evidently the big issue for you is the cost of drugs? May I remind you that for 4 of O’s years in office he held only the Senate and not with a filibuster proof majority, and for the last 4, he had to deal with Republican majorities in both houses.

        I think my record is pretty clear about acknowledging the failures of the Democratic Party. We agree that there is utter incompetence on both sides of the aisle, but at least with the Democrats it isn’t as mean-spirited as it is on the right. Tell me what you have been doing the past 8 years to bring about change in the political system? I’ve been working at the grassroots level, at the state and national level to the extent that I could through calls, donations, and registering voters and voting – every election. I have nothing to apologize for in terms of my efforts to hold our elected officials accountable, and, guess what? I’m still doing it today…spending hours every day as I can – which is not always easy. It is easy to criticize, but it’s hard to work for change. That’s what I’m doing whether it works or not and I am not critical of others who do less – until they make comments like above which are totally unwarranted and inaccurate. That was uncalled for, Fifty.

      6. Not this time is that “OK” gonna close out the argument. I absolutely make no apology for partisan criticism of the Republican Party for the last 8 years. NONE. Zip. Zero. I am also disgusted with the lack of leadership of the Democratic Party and have stated so many times but the actions of the GOP for the duration of Obama’s term is reprehensible – and it surely hasn’t gotten better this year. I am a Democrat and never have hidden my frustration with party leadership. Donations were made to both sides of the aisle by big pharma, as substantiated by the list I posted from Open Secrets. They are way under the finance and banking industry but that doesn’t make it right just because they bribe Congress to a lesser degree. Obama didn’t pass the original drug non-negotiation provision – that happened under “W”, but he saw clearly from the Clinton effort how fruitless that gambit was.
        Should he have tried harder? Yes, but this is an old, hard problem and it is not going to be solved politically unless either the people of America demand it or a bi-partisan effort permits it. I repeat: what would you have done to address this problem?

  2. By now all of you are aware of the cuts potus wants to make so he can give defense $54 B and build his damn wall (while expropriating private property)….The cuts are horrendous, but there are 19 smaller agencies that he strips all funding from. HEre’s the list:

    Here’s the complete list of the independent agencies Trump wants to defund:

    African Development Foundation
    Appalachian Regional Commission
    Chemical Safety Board
    Corporation for National and Community Service
    Corporation for Public Broadcasting
    Delta Regional Authority
    Denali Commission
    Institute of Museum and Library Services
    Inter-American Foundation
    U.S. Trade and Development Agency
    Legal Services Corporation
    National Endowment for the Arts
    National Endowment for the Humanities
    Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation
    Northern Border Regional Commission
    Overseas Private Investment Corporation
    United States Institute of Peace
    United States Interagency Council on Homelessness
    Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

  3. When do you know for certain that your nation is truly screwed? When you believe Congress is telling the truth and the president isn’t. Obama must be having a little chuckle over steaks grilling in the back yard at all these Repubs who have his back! You know they would have loved to have one last jab at him, but, alas, the man with orange hair and a part that keeps descending, is just – full of it.

  4. About 15 years ago my daughter rescued two puppies because their mother had been poisoned and her milk was poisoned. She had to hand feed them. She got unexpected help. Her cat with her own kittens took in the pups and fed them along with her kittens. As the dogs grew they started to pick up cat mom by her collar and carry her around. Later the dog I still have produced milk and nursed her cat moms babies from a later litter. You cannot explain this type of behavior by standard evolutionary models. Life is full of mysteries like this.

    Humans have intelligence composed of culture as well individual intelligence. Both co-evolved each depending on the other. The problem with AIs are the lack of culture . I know from running something very complex like a power plant it takes many minds with much cultural knowledge to make it go. No one individual can possibly learn all the skills needed even in several life times. I am an admirer of Unix , break each task into simple processes , write code to do each process very well and only that bit, then link many pieces into a whole to do the job originally wanted. This is what humans do naturally. And why for instance the advance human civilizations of the Americas fell apart when European disease wiped out most of the native population. Too many skills (or culture) lost all at once. AIs if ever created I think will follow this ancient pattern. How this come about in human culture is a mystery we are still working on unraveling.

    1. Stephan wrote: ” You cannot explain this type of behavior by standard evolutionary models. ”

      Mind if I try? Nursing mothers do not necessarily recognize the difference between their young, and those of another species. They evolved to instinct to nurse little things. There really would have been no evolutionary advantage in discriminating, so that behavior didn’t evolve. In fact, some species have evolved behaviors to exploit this “oversight”. Consider the cuckoo bird. It exhibits what is called “brood parasitism”. Female cuckoos lay their eggs in the nests of a variety of other species, and rely on them to raise their young – often to the great detriment of the host family. Since they use a variety of species as the host, sufficient evolutionary pressure is not exerted on a single host species to develop behaviors that would counter this threat.

      This is neither a mystery nor a miracle.

      1. “There really would have been no evolutionary advantage in discriminating, so that behavior didn’t evolve”
        That is the problem. If it is all about propagation of your DNA you are wasting resources propagating anothers DNA. Natural selection should remove this disadvantage behavior.

      2. Um not if the evolutionary pressure is insufficient. That’s why cuckoos use a range of host species. The default is always the simplest – i.e. no behavior. Obviously rearing young has a huge pressure. Discrimination between young does not, and is actually a pretty complex behavior. OK?

  5. Russia’s involvment in America’s election and beyond, have made for unusual allegiances. Palmer suggests that the frustration generated by potus’ baseless charges against Obama for wiretapping and the known election manipulation have provided common agreement for otherwise fierce Senate opponents. Partisanship in today’s political environment is appreciated whenever/however it occurs. Count me in with the Russian conspiracy involving DJT. There’s too many inter-locking threads. I hope the investigation has integrity.

    1. Honestly, Mary, I’d be careful with using the Palmer Report as a news resource. Sometimes the posts source to good information, but it’s all overly sensationalized and between this and his other news site Daily News Bin, Palmer has posted some articles based on utterly false information. See Snopes’ fact checks on some his works:

      Plus, Bill Palmer himself wasn’t very nice to the folks at Media Bias/Fact Check.

  6. So I read today that last night Price said in the town hall that the states should decide if vaccination should be done. I realize that the states have that right today, but are strongly coerced by at the federal level to vaccinate. However, it sure sounds like price and the puppet tyrant are on the same page, which is anti-vaccination, and the fear is that price will reverse the CDC’s recommendation to vaccinate.

    Are we going to see states in the near future NOT vaccinating anymore?
    The ramifications of that are mind-boggling.

    1. Is Price’s MD license current? If so, whatever state(s) that certified him need to yank it.

      I’d be tempted to say let the backwards, anti-science places wallow in a fresh epidemic of diseases that should have already been eradicated, except for 1) It’s little children who aren’t making the stupid decisions who would bear the brunt of it, and 2) the germs don’t recognize city or state boundaries.

    2. Trying to reason with “anti-vaxers” is futile. These are the same people who are big GMO protestors (for the record – at least I understand that argument). There is no recognition that the reason they and their children are safe from pandemics and communicable diseases is precisely because everyone else is vaccinating.

  7. Well – The Aeon piece begins by (apparently) conflating intelligence with consciousness. Whether or not any machine we build will be ‘conscious’ in the strictest sense is debatable, perhaps fundamentally unknowable, but perhaps surprisingly unimportant. The definition of Solipsism is that I live in a world populated by robots made of meat. I have absolutely no way of determining whether this is true or not. What I can determine is that my way through the world should be based on the logical assumption that it is not. Trump may be a (malevolent) robot, but it doesn’t matter.

    Next, we find the rather fanciful claim that because eukaryotic cells have a long history, and are remarkably complex, they are ‘connected to their environment’ in ways that have no analogue in Silicon. Nonsense. The cells in my feet have not a thing to do with my intelligence, let alone my ‘mind’. I’d be no less human had I been born without them. Or no more stupid, depending on your point of view. The brain is the engine, and while elegantly evolved, it’s slower than snails.

    What the author seems to miss is the fantastic speed advantage that machines have over us. By the numbers, a supercomputer can do more in a minute, (in terms of logical operations), that an entire team of humans can do in 40,000 years. So what if those machines use a so-called brute force approach to problem-solving?

    In short, I am unconvinced.

    1. EJ

      An AI researcher friend once remarked to me that the problem is centred in the fact that we don’t know what intelligence is. At first we thought it was ‘that which a human can do but a machine can’t.’ The problem with this isn’t that machines are getting better but that we’re learning just how deterministic humans are.

      To use Fifty’s phrase, it is increasingly thought that we are just robots made of meat, and that’s terrifying.

      1. Maybe (we are just robots made of meat)….but my view has always been that conscience is that intangible force that negates the man as robot. That is, I believed that until this election. It’s conceivable that robots could be programmed to mimic people who have been so Fox-programmed that their predictability can be replicated….Ah, one more reason to embrace liberals….in all their diverse unpredictability!

      2. EJ – Your closing is essentially the question of free will, and whether or not we have it. Evidence is indeed mounting, from fMRI studies and other areas of neuroscience, that we may not. It seems that in a deterministic universe, (like the one we inhabit), we cannot. Each and every thing we do is the result of initial conditions, like genetics, upbringing, interactions with others, etc. This is either true, or there is a ‘ghost in the machine’. So far, absolutely no evidence or this ghost has been found. This notion quite obviously raises serious ethical questions regarding things like crime and punishment, and many other areas. But again, like the question of consciousness, does it matter? Can we build orderly societies without the assumption that we really are the ultimate masters of our fate? I don’t see how.

      3. EJ

        To my mind there are three possibilities: determinism, free will, or random chance. As you say, the first and last of those can be proven to exist; the middle one less so. I think a lot of what people ascribe to the impact of free will is simply the human ability to see narratives in random information.

        In short, yes, I agree with you.

        I’m not so sure about how necessary free will is in the building of societies. To me, determinism invites investigation, and leads to the desire to understand what makes a person function. “Free will” is a handwave which banishes investigation; it’s the psychological equivalent of invoking evil spirits to explain disease. Surely humanity benefits from closer investigation of everything, including ourselves?

      4. EJ – Whether or not we ‘need’ free will to flourish is debatable, and I believe we really do not. I was pointing out that we pretty much have to buy into the paradigm that we do. Accountability for actions is a fundamental element of all successful societies. In fact, when that breaks down as with BS ideas like ‘vicarious redemption’, and deathbed comings to Jesus, (to make a couple of pretty gross examples), the very notion of moral accountability goes out the window.

        Now, I fully agree that continued investigation of free will is absolutely essential to our further understanding of ourselves, and a very worthwhile enterprise. The theory of mental illness has brought us to a point where we no longer punish the antisocial actions of lunatics. We have embedded in our system of jurisprudence that the notion of *intent* is far a more important determinant of punishment than outcome. It’s just that we need to be very careful with how we extrapolate the results of this research to social institutions. We cannot treat everyone as if they were a lunatic.

      5. So here is my contribution to this thread.

        Fifty sez – “The theory of mental illness has brought us to a point where we no longer punish the antisocial actions of lunatics”

        I’ve read about the importance of the frontal lobe in determining social and anti-social behavior. So here is something to ponder. Suppose we could, in the future, look at a killer’s brain and say, “Oh, here’s the problem.” Tinker, tinker. “There, he’s fixed now. No danger to anyone.”

        Does he still get the death penalty or even a life sentence?

      6. There was a great movie about “tinkering” with one’s brain to remove a threat to society….”One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”….one of Jack Nicholson’s all time best movies. My problem is that those with functioning brains are either mis-using them or not using them.

      7. unarmed – A very good question!

        To quote the great Orwell:

        ” The long-hoped-for bullet was entering his brain.”

        “He gazed up at the enormous face. Forty years it had taken him to learn what kind of smile was hidden beneath the dark moustache. O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn, self-willed exile from the loving breast! Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.”

        You see, Winston was reprogrammed. You pose an essential ethical connundrum. If ever we tread that space, we’d better be darn sure we know what we’re doing, and those in control are without ulterior motives. Is this even possible?

      8. In many important ways, they already are. Automatic code generation has allowed the most basic, the lowest levels of software in complex systems, to be effectively unfathomable to humans. It’s not that we can’t, but rather it’s just not worth the trouble. For example, regardless which OS you are using right now, Windows, Android, or Mac OS, if you think that there exists a single human who completely understands every line of code in its context, think again. That horse left the gate long ago.

        To extend the thought to self-modifying systems, that’s what so-called smart systems are all about. Where we are, to that future you may envision is only a matter of degree. And its not a particularly large one either.

      9. EJ

        “A robot reprogramming other robots” is a perfect description of the field of psychiatry, as well as that of advertising and (to an extent) this very blog.

        When Chris Ladd says to a racist, “You’ve loudly protested that you’re not a racist, but if we look at X, Y and Z then we can see a very different situation”, then using the metaphor of reprogramming may be a fairly good one, and not only because Chris writes software for a living.

      10. Chris probably outta clarify what he does, though in fairness I don’t think my parents or kids have ever understood it.

        I was a lawyer in Houston for several years. Technically I suppose I still am. Worked in sales for a software company for several years after that, then moved into the technical side of the sales/marketing team. Now manage a team of people who do the technical work for the sales teams at a software company. Along the way I’ve been involved in development of several web projects and other odds and ends. Probably still not terribly clear what I do, but that’s the best explanation I can think of.

      1. He is indeed. I caught his lecture at Jones Hall in January. Though it was largely a rehash of what he’s been doing on the lecture circuit for years, it was time very well spent. His personal story is really, really inspiring, too. He may be a meat robot, but he’s a great one!

      2. What a president he would make for a nation that so desperately needs wisdom, intelligence, kind and informed leadership. Do you think we will get back to a time where the electorate has the wisdom to select a man like this?

    2. From the AEON article: “So when a human thinks about a cat . . . She has a rich store of sensory information at her disposal to understand the idea of a cat.”
      Instead of “Our bodies may be the key to understanding the limits of AI,” I would think that our bodies and the associated store of sensory information may actually be what limits US, what keeps us from remaining as objective and logical as AI.

      Now the question would be, is being completely objective and logical the ultimate goal of human beings? I would think not. The consummate human being is an imperfect blend of logic, emotion, and physical sensation. Who says perfection of any kind is the ultimate goal?

      Let’s leave pure, dry, logic to the machines. It’s what they do best. And let us human beings continue to be as we are, with all our foibles, a combination of intelligence and feeling. There is no contest, nor should there be. It’s a false dilemma.

      1. Tutt – Hmmm. I guess I don’t want us to become machines either. (Or at least any more than we already may be!) but the continued flourishing of our species cannot, and should not be based on emotional decision making. but we can’t let judges hand down sentences based on gut feels, or decisions regarding climate be influenced by interpretation of Iron Age fables. This is the sort of ‘human stuff’ that, while you can keep it between your ears, should not be let loose on the rest of us. Intelligent systems may provide better objectivity, and give us more data to make more rational decisions for the good of us all.

      2. Fifty, you’re going to the other extreme. I never said we should allow ourselves to be ruled completely by emotion, only that we humans are a complicated blend of emotion and intelligence.

        Do you want your life to be ruled completely by robotic decision making?

        Let’s say you make one mistake at work, and based completely on logic and objectivity, you deserve to be fired, but my human instinct understands that you were having a particularly stressful time at home, and I decide to give you another chance, since you are a loyal employee.

        Wouldn’t you say that in this case, the human factor is a good thing?

      3. I agree with Tutta. There is a place in our world for both. Goodness knows, there isn’t any lack of well-educated, intelligent men and women in our government. But, wise? Empathetic? Kind? Humble? Those are human qualities and they are important and necessary for a civilized society.

      4. But can’t machines act stupidly as well, if programmed incorrectly?

        Look at some of the results of algorithms. They can be “correct” based on my Google searches, what I click on, and what I purchase, but they can paint a totally inaccurate portrait of who I truly am.

        Or algorithms can provide me with “news,” based simply on what I like to believe is true, which is probably totally different from my neighbor’s “news.”

      5. Since we’re on the subject of intelligence, I’m amazed at the various levels of education and intelligence on this blog, that someone as lowly as I would have the opportunity to argue with the likes of someone as high up as Fifty.

        The playing field here is not at all level, but it’s still fun to play.

      6. Tutt and Mime – I think we associate “robotic decision-making” with the popular stereotypes of Mr. Spock and the HAL-9000. Empathy, kindness, humbleness are all evolved traits. They arose because there was a selective advantage to the species to exhibit them. They were essential, and still are! But whether or not these traits should be thought of as *exclusively human* is quite another matter. Depending on the goals of a particular intelligence, they could just as well be exhibited by a synthetic entity. This is just one of the problems associated with AI, and keeping it safe.

        We humans have these traits for a very good reason. In fact, they actually are “logical” from the broader standpoint of the species. Furthermore, many other species exhibit them, and for the very same reasons. A machine devoid of these characteristics, one whose goals were completely centered on the self, could be very dangerous indeed. In human terms we’d refer to it as a psychopath.

        And thanks for the kind words.

    3. Aye, Fifty – A scary situation, but as someone said, in the future, everything is possible.

      I like to ask the question in the midst of a discussion of death penalties. Or even life sentences. You know, why do we kill or incarcerate the guilty? Revenge?

      So would we put to death a perfectly good former killer?

      And will our silicon based overlords have an appetite for vengeance?

      1. Do not get me started on the whole incarceration issue. How many of those who are in prison are there for minor offenses? Should they be there at all or should they be held accountable by other means that didn’t require them to be locked up? America’s imprisonment rate and money spent therein, is obscene. And, it’s wrong. I challenge any who dispute what I am saying to read: “Just Mercy”, written by Bryan Stevenson, founder and director of the Montgomery, AL Equal Justice Initiative. Read that and then talk to me about deterrence. What we really should be talking about is the horrible, immoral problem we have in our justice process which imprisons people because they can’t pay fines for such innocuous offenses at a parking ticket, or failure to yield.

        I have read recently that part of the solution to the absence of immigrant labor in agriculture is that prison labor will be used. REad up on that little problem, too. There are some bad people out there and they need and deserve to be in prison, but how many thousands of men and women AND children are sitting in a cell who could be “deterred” through appropriate counseling, better educational opportunity and jobs?

      2. EJ

        There is some research which indicates that deterrence works. This isn’t why we do it, though. If society based criminal justice system around research, prisons would be pleasant places of education and counselling, and that’s definitely not what they are.

        I’m not an expert in rehabilitation, or even in psychology at all, but based on what I’ve seen, it is my theory that we do most of it in response to the public desire to make “bad people” suffer. That, in turn, comes from a very ugly part of the human psyche, and not one that’s easily persuaded by research.

  8. I grow vegetables and fruits as a hobby. People in my hobby are well aware of the value genetic diversity. Many of us grow older varieties and propagate them too. The monolithic world of industrial farming has lost much of this diversity and our food supply could be jeopardized in the future. The Banana is a example of this to the extreme.

    1. As a FL guy, you are undoubtedly aware of the action yesterday by the FL House Appropriations Committee voted to cut food assistance for 229,000 Floridians, including 157,000 children and 44,000 seniors and those with a disability.

      It appears that Red state legislatures are emboldened by the excitement of federal action in the new AHCA bill to cut $880 Billion from Medicaid. Think those things don’t “trickle down”?

      1. Pure evil. The those who control the Republican Party and most of our government are showing their true colors. They are a bunch of self serving opportunist who will use anything despicable or not to gain and hold power. Right now we have stepped up our church’s food bank efforts as people are hungry food stamps or not. And this was before this cut. I will personally do what I can to feed the hungry and clothe the naked which is another outreach of my church. If the AHCA passes many family and friends who voted for Trump and GOP candidates will be hurt badly. This finally may get through to some of them that your friends maybe not who you thought and your thinking needs to be cleaned up and re-initialized. Many older people depend on Medicaid which is going to be severally cut. Most people who need nursing home assistance are on it. Other oldsters gain additional health care including drug coverage from the program. Many of these people ignorantly voted the people in who planned the destruction of any type of social spending. I am fairly well off and will not be hurt. Funny how people like me are informed and fighting for social mercy and justice. Children will be severally hurt but they do not vote so those who can should be moral and stand in the gap for them. I feel pure loathing for these evil politicians and those who support them. I am sure that Jesus is not pleased either.

      2. I guess the FL Legislature figured that the “meals on wheels” program is going to people who probably don’t vote…so they’re easy prey. There may be problems in some areas with this but every place I’ve lived, MoW has been very important.

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