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Monthly Archives: May 2023

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Will AI augur well for humanity?

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Science is supposed to be the pursuit of truth, but there might be decidedly something unscientific and possibly even dangerous about the commercialization of artificial intelligence (AI) over the past several months.

The era of ‘move fast and break things’, the longtime mantra of Silicon Valley giants, is now facing a severe challenge from the AI technology.

Last year’s launch of OpenAI’s ChatGPT, which became the fastest-growing app in history when it hit 100 million users in only two months, showcased the technology’s lucrative potential and spurred companies into action.

However, leading AI experts have urged companies to take a cautious approach and warned about the risks and dangers posed by this ground-breaking technology.

Tech firms, including Google and Microsoft, are pouring billions into the AI research with Alphabet adding $115 billion in value after unveiling new AI tools. Amazon has announced the launching of its own in-house AI model known as Titan.

But where is this race leading to?

The former CEO of Twitter and Tesla CEO, Elon Musk, lamented that he had committed mistakes in forming the company that became OpenAI, the originator of the game-changing ChatGPT artificial intelligence company.

He had also regretted about ChatGPT, saying he’s a ‘huge idiot’ for letting go of OpenAI.

Musk thinks the world is woefully unprepared for the impact of AI. The technology will hit people “like an asteroid”, he said revealing that he had used his only one-on-one meeting with the then President Barack Obama to push for the AI regulation. He proposed a six-month ban on artificial intelligence to ensure better planning and management.

Even though Bill Gates had said he was “scared” about the technology falling into the wrong hands, he had rejected Musk-backed plan to pause the AI research, saying the technology may already be on a runaway train.

On May 16, OpenAI CEO Sam Altman during a Senate panel hearing had urged US lawmakers to regulate the AI, describing the technology’s current boom as a potential “printing press moment” but one that required safeguards. “We think that regulatory intervention by governments will be critical to mitigate the risks of increasingly powerful models,” he had said in his opening remarks before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee.

He said the potential for AI to be used to manipulate voters and target disinformation are his “areas of greatest concern,” especially because “we’re going to face an election next year and these models are getting better.”

Sen. Richard Blumenthal explained that it could just as easily have produced “an endorsement of Ukraine’s surrendering or Vladimir Putin’s leadership.” That, he said, “would’ve been really frightening.”

The new AI tools, which have been developed by several tech firms in recent months, met with backlash from their critics for their potential to disrupt millions of jobs, spread misinformation and perpetuate biases.

Former diplomat Henry Kissinger, 99, says he wants to call attention to the dangers of AI the same way he did for nuclear weapons and warns it’s a ‘totally new problem’.

Author Yuval Noah Harari argues society needs time to get artificial intelligence right.

Geoffrey Hinton, known as the “godfather of artificial intelligence”, has decided to blow the whistle on the technology, raising concerns over its use.  The 75-year-old is particularly concerned that these tools could be trained to sway elections and even to wage wars. He recently quit a high-profile job at Google specifically to share his concerns that unchecked AI development could pose danger to humanity.

Hinton has highlighted four possible dangers in the coming years: Military applications, misinformation and disinformation, jobs lost and the rise of dictators. His concerns are shared by the Center for AI Safety, an organization dedicated to reducing the societal-scale risks from artificial intelligence.

What causes alarm 

Our human brains can solve calculus equations, drive cars and keep track of the characters in ‘succession’, thanks to their native talent for organizing and storing information and reasoning out solutions to thorny problems. The roughly 86 billion neurons packed into our skulls — and, more important, the 100 trillion connections those neurons forge among themselves — make that possible.

By contrast, the technology underlying ChatGPT features between 500 billion and one trillion connections. GPT-4, the latest AI model from OpenAI, knows “hundreds of times more” than any single human.

Hinton says maybe it has “much better learning algorithm” than we do, making it more efficient at cognitive tasks.

He suggests that a global agreement similar to the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention might be a good first step toward establishing international rules against weaponized AI.

In March, more than 1,000 researchers and technologists had signed a letter calling for a six month’s pause on AI development because, they said, it poses “profound risks to society and humanity.”

What would smarter-than-human AI systems do? Malicious individuals, groups or nation-states might simply co-opt them to further their own ends. What’s not clear is how anyone would stop a power like Russia from using AI technology to dominate its neighbors or its own citizens. Hinton says AI chatbots, for instance, could be the future version of election misinformation spread via Facebook and other social media platforms.

And that might just be the beginning, Hinton had said. “Don’t think for a moment that Putin wouldn’t make hyper-intelligent robots with the goal of killing Ukrainians.”

“Humans are more important than money,” says Yoshua Bengio, one of the pioneers of AI technology. He says he feels “lost” because of the direction that the AI is headed in.

Humanity now is at the mercy of a vast and uncaring universe. As I write this, I’m reminded of Byron’s terrible tale of apocalypse and despair in his poem “Darkness”.


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US and the ‘Cult of the Gun’

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A US federal judge in Virginia had ruled last week (May 11) that young adults (under the age 21) cannot be barred from having a handgun. Banning licenced firearms dealers from selling guns to those under the age of 21 is unconstitutional, the judge had said.

According to the  Gun Violence Archive, there have been more than 200 mass shootings across the US so far this year. (A mass shooting is defined as an incident in which four or more people are injured or killed. The archive figures include shootings that happen at homes and in public places.) There have been two in Texas early this month – five killed at a home in Cleveland, north of Houston, and eight dead at a shopping mall in Allen, near Dallas.

In each of the last three years, there have been more than 600 mass shootings, almost two a day on average.

Last week, Virginia’s District Judge Robert E Payne had argued in a 71-page filing that federal age regulations in the purchase of handguns violate the Second Amendment. Currently, adults between 18 and 20 can purchase guns through their parents or guardians but are not allowed to buy them from registered dealers themselves in Virginia.

My heart aches when I had read the report. Isn’t the judge a father? Even if he isn’t a father, doesn’t it cross his mind that such ruling will lead to further mindless shooting and loss of innocent lives!

Easy access to firearms has led to senseless shooting and loss of innocent lives over the past three decades. In Las Vegas in 2017, the deadliest attack killed more than 50 people and left 500 wounded.

As many as 48,830 people have died from gun-related injuries in the US during 2021, according to the latest data from  the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

That’s nearly an 8% increase from 2020, which was a record-breaking year for firearm deaths.

Every mass shooting in the country has been followed by a familiar political drama: Democrats call for new gun-control measures, such as a ban on assault-style weapons, and point out the US is the only advanced nation in the world where gun violence keeps repeated in such frequency.

Republicans counter that the right to possess firearms is enshrined in the US Constitution and that new gun-control legislation would be counterproductive. Because of the nature of US government, there’re little changes on a national level.

Following the mass shooting in April that had killed six at a school in Nashville, Tennessee, President Joe Biden had said: “We’ve to do more to stop gun violence. It’s ripping our communities apart.” But, ‘doing more’ faces a number of serious roadblocks in Congress.

After 20 children and six adults had been killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut on December 14, 2012, a majority of the US senators had supported passing legislation requiring expanded background checks for gun purchases. But because of the filibuster – a parliamentary procedure that requires at least 60 votes in the 100-seat Senate to pass most legislation – a simple majority was not enough.

Presidents came and went, but similar tragedies strike again and again, kids get orphaned and cries of heart-broken mothers fill the air.

President Barack Obama though had made sincere efforts to curb the gun violence. After the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy (December 14, 2012), he had broken down at a press conference on the issue of gun control measures. The President had tried to bypass Congress utilizing his executive powers to outline a series of measures to curb gun violence, through the expansion of background checks. Unfortunately, all his efforts went in vain, thanks to powerful gun lobby and the US constitution.

Although congressional efforts at sweeping gun control were stymied in 2015, gun-control activists made substantive progress in passing new laws at the state level.

In Connecticut, there was overwhelming support for reform from the communities still reeling from the brutality of the Sandy Hook attack. Other Democratic-controlled states – like New York, Maryland and California – have passed their own legislation, closing gun-show loopholes, limiting magazine sizes and prohibiting the sale of certain types of firearms.

A Washington Post data says everyday in the US more than 40 children lose a parent to shooting.

Where are we headed to? Imagine!

A society which is immersed only in corporate-driven consumerism, where only materialism matters and where affluence and luxury are the sine qua non of people’s every day existence, the Virginia judge ruling will surely be greeted with more kudos than disparagement. When will the Americans be able to realize that accruing more and more wealth and enjoying endless other commodities won’t bring happiness in their lives? Well, ‘happiness’ is difficult to pin down, let alone measure.

David G. Myers in his book “The American Paradox: Spiritual Hunger in an Age of Plenty” says: “Our becoming much better off over the last four decades has not been accompanied by one iota of increased subjective well-being.”

The US will continue to sacrifice its babies to the altar of guns and this ‘cult of the gun’ will continue unless right-thinking citizens rise to the occasion and take to the streets to bring about changes in the constitution.

Wake up guys! Your ‘single step will make a giant leap’ for your fellow citizens!



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Sunak takes chopper ride for short trip as UK economy gasps for breath

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UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s helicopter ride from London to Southampton, especially at a time when the country’s economy has been gasping for breath, came in for severe criticism from residents as well as netizens across the country. Sunak took the chopper for a trip to Southampton and back to London that would have taken just over an hour on train.

The incident has once again brought into sharp focus a serious issue whether our leaders are really in touch with everyday concerns, and whether they really bother about common people’s woes.

The UK economy had avoided recession by high inflation and worries about a weak growth outlook, the GDP increased by 0.1% between October and December after a preliminary estimate of no growth, according to official data which showed a boost to households’ finances from state energy bill subsidies but falling investment by businesses.

British economic output remained 0.6% below its level of late 2019, the only G7 economy not to have recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) had forecast in January that Britain would be the only Group of Seven major advanced economy to shrink in 2023, in large part because of an inflation rate that remains above 10%.

There are currently more than one million vacancies in the country, about three millions more than before the pandemic, and 21% of the working population is “economically inactive,”  an increase of half a million since 2019, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Amid this gloomy economic scenario, Prime Minister Sunak’s chopper ride to a pharmacy in Southampton to promote healthcare policy has drawn sharp flak from the UK residents.

One of the residents justifiably slammed him as an “unelected billionaire” who used taxpayers’ money for the trip which could have been taken by train. One netizen lambasted the Prime Minister calling him ‘climate criminal’.

Price for a train journey from London to Southampton round trip is 30 pound (Rs3105) while the cost of a VIP chopper ride is 6,000 pound (Rs 6.21 lakh).

Sadly enough, the son-in-law of Infosys co-founder N.R. Narayana Murthy and Sudha Murthy, who is well-known for her charity and philanthropy, is using taxpayers’ money while the UK economy is in the doldrums. From a lavish mansion to a spacious sea-facing penthouse, Sunak and his wife Akshata Murthy own a couple of luxurious properties in the UK and the US.

The helicopter flight to the port city where he was raised is likely to add to the public perception that Sunak, whose net worth is 730 million pound, is hardly concerned with the problems of the masses.

Let’s take a look at Sweden. In Sweden, former PMs push shopping trolleys and mayors queue for public buses. The country doesn’t offer luxury or privileges to its politicians. Without official cars or private drivers, Swedish ministers and MPs travel in crowded buses and trains, just like ordinary citizens. They don’t have any right to parliamentary immunity; they can be tried like any other person. With no private secretaries at the door, their bare-bones parliamentary offices are as small as eight square metres.

No one in public life earns an obscene multiple-digit salary: the take-home pay of a member of the Riksdag (Swedish parliament) is approximately two times more than what an elementary school teacher earns on average.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte uses cycle to reach his office. He makes the journey by bike as often as possible for sustainable development impact. “I didn’t cycle a lot for 10 years. But for the past two years, I’ve had my own bike again and, when the weather allows, I travel into the office that way,” he had told the World Economic Forum in 2019.

Netherlands lives up to its cyclist-friendly reputation and has the most bicycles per capita of any country in the world.

Well, if we look at the life style of today’s political leaders we notice most of them use expensive cars, wear costly suit or specs and are guarded by a wall of security at the expense of public money.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s monogrammed suit has entered the Guinness World Records after his two-piece suit with his full name vertically embroidered on the fabric multiple times to resemble golden pinstripes, was sold at an auction for Rs 4.31 crore in Surat in 2015, making it the most expensive suit ever auctioned. Reports say the suit was worth Rs 10 lakh.

We have seen billionaire politicians like Donald Trump, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, Chilean President Sebastian Pinera and former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, to name a few.

It’s not easy to achieve, but simplicity should be a vital goal while serving the public. Remember former Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri (1964-1966) and his simplicity, humility and tolerance? A man of the masses, Shastri-ji was driven by principles only while today’s politicians are driven by lust for power and pelf.

When former interim Prime Minister Gulzarilal Nanda had died in Ahmedabad on January 15, 1998, his family needed just one bag to pack his belongings.

Only time will tell when we’ll be able to get rid of the power-hungry, corrupt and dishonest politicians, who are fleecing common people with false promises, hypocrisy and double-speak.


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