Friday 30 June 2023

Collision 2023 whizzed by with plenty on AI

Collision 2023 talk with Hinton
Godfather of AI: Geoffrey Hinton... he's the tiny figure in the centre. Squint and you can see him.

I dropped in on Collision 2023 during the week. It's billed as the biggest tech industry event in Canada. 

Think of your usual office meeting. Now set it in the middle of a Madonna concert: that's Collision. 

I don't think I'm as used to so much cacophony since COVID.

The day's top billing was with the Godfather of AI, Geoffrey Hinton. The rest was filled with big sounding talks like The Future of Quantum Computing, but which really were just company sales pitches. I bet investors get the same deal. Rather than higher level or theoretical discussion, it was the limited perspective and plans of a single company. 

If I made a social media app and then billed a talk as 'The Future of Social Media', that'd be disingenuous. 

The talk itself was fine for what it was; I just felt the title advertised something the talk was not. 

Another presenter was still with Google. Now Google is in so many ways awesome, putting out products we are hopelessly addicted to. However, this mouthpiece was so peppy, positive and reassuring about everything AI it verged on soporific. 

And honestly, I've listened to car salesmen I'd trust more. I don't buy the corporate line there will be no job loss thanks to AI. 

Creative Destruction has been bringing diminishing job creation returns, while productivity boosts drive money to the owners, not the workers. GM, Ford, etcetera employed millions back in the day. The new drivers of the stock market (Meta, Google, etc) employ a small fraction. 

Corporate Mouthpiece?

The Google Mouthpiece claimed AI cannot think, it can only thunk, which while cute was directly contradicted by the Godfather of AI, who's left Google and can now say whatever the heck he likes. He's run tests with large language models and says they show reasoning abilities. Generative AI is a lot more than just advanced autocomplete. 

I'm more inclined to believe him than the happy happy corporate shill. Funny enough, it was the journalists earlier who were noting that Generative AI doesn't do well with nuance. Neither do some agendas. 

Hinton expressed concern about autonomous AI battlebots, wealth polarization, mass disinformation and other points of concern that I really should have written down because now I can't remember. Old age sucks, man.

99% of researchers are working on making AI better, and only 1% is working on making it safe and ethical. 

I don't doubt that avaricious, insatiable, manipulative and machiavellian AI being built for the stock markets and don't have the faintest clue what an ethic is, or if you can buy it. 

Hinton's talk only lasted 20 minutes or so, which is a selling point for the event; the talks are short enough there's no time to get bored. Here though, it was much too short. Honestly, I could have listened to Hinton all day. 

A lot of money was poured into the super slick Collision glitz fest, and I'm sure many a useful connection was made; hopefully productive deals, too, especially for all the startups and smaller companies. One can hope.

For me, though, the talks were disappointing, especially the corporate ones. I wanted more candor, less pablum. The most interesting talks were by gadflies who'd quit their prestigious positions to warn the world about AI, and the nuanced take of the journalists, who will one day be writing about 'our new robot overlords.'

And I for one just hope to be a part of it.

Wednesday 28 June 2023

It Blew Up Good, REAL GOOD: Nordstream

Did the US, with help from Norway, blow up the Nordstream pipeline? Seymour Hersh seems to think so, thanks to one anonymous source. 

This has received a lot of coverage in Europe, but less so here in Canada or the USA. 

From the article:

"If Russia invades – that means tanks or troops crossing the border of Ukraine – there will be no longer a Nord Stream 2," Biden said during joint a press conference with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. "We will bring an end to it... I promise you, we'll be able to do it."

Hersh has vehemently defended his reporting:

"I've been doing stories for fifty years and I worked at The New York Times for seven or eight years. I won an awful lot of prizes there for a lot of stories. And I doubt if maybe 5% of my stories had a source named. Most of them were without sources because you can't do this kind of reporting without it."

It makes a certain kind of sense: it hits Russia in the pocket book and peels Germany away from its Russian fossil fuel addiction. 

On the other hand, it economically damages Germany, a US ally, and I can't see the Germans being happy about that. It's uncharacteristically reckless for Biden to pull such a stunt; he's been consistently cautious about escalating tensions with Russia.

But who knows? Power politics is a damn dirty business.

Things like this make me side eye the media narrative, and consider Mearsheimer's assertion that the USA orchestrated a coup in Ukraine in 2014. I don't doubt the US helped give advice to dissidents, and even funds to liberal political movements, but a full fledged coup? It's a serious claim that requires serious evidence.

The CIA has pulled stuff like this before. 

Then again, it may have been these guys:

As with pursuing the Arc of the Covenant, poking the Russian Bear in its den is not something to be undertaken lightly... 

Monday 26 June 2023

Hot and tasty: Prigozhin's Cup-a-Not-a-Coup

Prigozhin's up-a-coup soup package with T-72 sticking out of cup
Prigozhin's Chicken Noodle flavoured Instant Cup-A-Coup!

Is Putin done?

I doubt it. 

Then again, I was not expecting Putin's caterer to occupy Rostov and send an army of convicted murderers and rapists on a "March for Justice" to Moscow. 

Putin fled in his private jet as a few Russian army units joined in the march. Prigozhin took control of a TV station to broadcast that the war was being fought under false pretenses (deja vu, America!) and that Ukraine had actually never persecuted Russians and wasn't run by Jewish Nazis. 

I couldn't make this stuff up, it's so bonkers.

And then, after shooting down some Russian attack helicopters, the caterer suddenly dropped everything and set off for exile in Minsk, thanks to a deal worked out by Lame-duck-Lukashenko of Belarus. 

As OMC and Navalny might say, how bizarre!

'Priggy' has always been a loose cannon, but to bite the hand that fed him so directly was a major surprise. 

Why'd he do it?

Serious miscalculation.

Last week, Putin made clear he was going to roll Wagner into the MoD org. This would strip Prigozhin of all his power, and possibly expose him to existential danger at the hands of Shoigu, who hates his guts. So Priggy Prigozhin preempted them all, caught the FSB flat footed, and the road to Moscow open. Wagner troops willingly followed their hard nosed boss: they weren't keen on being integrated with the regular Russian army, which (naturally) has worse food (Prigozhin was a former chef and caterer, after all). 

Everyone else rallied around President Putin, and Prigozhin's 'March for Justice' stunt was denounced as full fledged treason. That seems to be when when Warlord Prigozhin started to look for an off ramp. Too little, too late.

So now what? The private army is going to be split up among regular Russian army units so they can never again act against Warlord-President Putin.

That removes the biggest threat to his regime. At least that I am aware of. Shoigu and Gerasimov may be disliked by the rank and file, but they are Putin loyalists. No threat there.

Putin does come out of this bizarre affair with egg on his face. His reputation as a machiavellian plotter who is always ahead of his opponents is tarnished, and it will take time for him to reestablish his cold blooded utter ruthlessness cred. 

I think he'll succeed in doing so, and I wouldn't want to be in Prigozhin's shoes right now. I'd hire someone taste test his afternoon tea, if you know what I mean. Stay away from Russian windows.

Overall, I think we all got off easy. 

Priggy would be the worse option to have in control of Russia's nuclear arsenal. Both of these warlords are dangerous men, but Priggy's more volatile and unpredictable. 

I'd rather see a stable, democratic liberal regime in Moscow, but that's not gonna happen. Russia is still an empire, which means that if the security forces let up, several regions will try and secede. 

Stay tuned for the next episode of Russian Political Roulette...

Sunday 25 June 2023

Moh Life Drawin'

Some life drawing from earlier this spring, using pencil brushes in ProCreate. Theme was pirates.