Daily Clips: February 24th, 2016

Twilight of the Super PAC: 

Super PACs are new phenomena in American politics. They are a product of two judicial decisions: the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, delivered in January 2010, and the D.C. Circuit’s decision in Speechnow.org v. Federal Election Commission, two months later. Together, these two decisions enabled the creation of a new entity: a political action committee that could accept unlimited donations so long as it did not coordinate its expenditure with any political campaign…

Disgust with the costly ineffectiveness of super PACs may explain one of the most important mysteries of the current phase of the 2016 campaign.

Bill Gates says the energy breakthrough that will “save our planet” is less than 15 years away: Ezra Klein talks with Gates at length (forty minutes) about technology, innovation, and energy. As you may expect, the conversation is riveting. Here are some tidbits from the interview I found particularly interesting (and relates to our robots and automation podcast where we address Gates’ dystopian visions):

EK: I know you take the risk of creating artificial intelligence that ultimately turns against us pretty seriously; I’m curious where you think we are in terms of building artificial intelligence.

I know there’s a lot of disagreement in the field about, are we 40 years away? Are we 500 years away? What do you think is the state of AI research right now, and when do you think it will really begin feeding back into the economy and into innovation?

BG: Well, with robotics, you have to think of three different milestones.

One is just pure labor substitution for jobs that are largely physical and visual manipulation — driving, security guard, warehouse work, waiter, maid. That threshold — I don’t think you’d get much disagreement that over the next 15 years the robotic equivalents in terms of cost, in terms of reliability, will become a substitute to those activities. So that’s the first stage, and you’d get less variance in that prediction.

Then there’s what we think of as “intelligent activities” — things like writing contracts, or doing diagnoses, or writing software code. When will the computer start to infringe? “Infringe” is a pejorative word. When will it start to have the capacity to work in those areas? Some might say 30 years — I might be there. Some might say 60 years. Some might not even say that.

Then you have the sort of third threshold, where the intelligence involved is dramatically better than humanity as a whole, and there you’re going to get a huge range of views, including those who think it won’t ever happen. You have Ray Kurzweil, who says it will happen, I think, at midnight on July 13, 2045, or something like that, and it will all be good. Then you have people who say it can never happen. Then you have the group that I’m more among, that says, “Okay, we’re not able to predict it, but it’s something that people should start thinking about.” We shouldn’t restrict activities or slow things down, but the potential that that exists — even in a 50-year time frame — means it’s something to be taken seriously.

But those are different thresholds, and the responses are different.

Noam Chomsky’s take on Trump: The far-left intellectual has attributed Donald Trump’s rise to “fear” and a “breakdown of society.” He says that “people feel isolated, helpless, victim of powerful forces that they do not understand and cannot influence.”

I would reply to Chomsky by saying that this nothing new. For many centuries Americans have been isolated and helpless. However, the difference now is that white people are feeling “victim to powerful forces” – a subjugation they have often escaped.

Tweet of the day:

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Nick Cassella
Nick Cassella graduated from the University of St Andrews in Scotland in 2014. After graduating, he worked on the Initiative 594 campaign before joining Civic Ventures, where he now manages Civic Skunk Works' social media presence.