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Don’t Panic. This Is Democracy.

Posted on | January 18, 2024 | 2 Comments

Mike Magee

Shock and dismay were once again in the air this week as Donald Trump did his best to be thrown out of the courtroom in New York City during his unrequested attendance at his second Jean Carroll libel trial.

But as an engaged citizen, I thank the former President for crash testing our form of government. Despite driving a majority of Americans to despair, he has driven the crazies, and their minority followers, out into the open, where they can be examined and confronted. 

He has also meticulously probed the nooks and crannies of the checks and balances of our constitutional government for weaknesses to exploit. And his “What a’ ya gonna du about it?” gangster style has helped foster a certain alertness among true democracy’s defenders

Join me for a moment in Court with Trump this week:

E. Jean Carroll (on the stand):   “I’m here because Donald Trump assaulted me, and when I wrote about it, he said it never happened. He lied, and it shattered my reputation.”

Donald Trump (slumped over), slams hands on desk, and loudly whispers to his attorney.

Shawn Crowley (Carroll’s attorney) to the Judge:  “Mr Trump has been sitting at the back table and has been loudly saying things throughout Ms Carroll’s testimony. It’s loud enough for us to hear it. So I imagine it’s loud enough for the jury to hear it.”

Judge Lewis Kaplan to Trump’s attorney: “I’m just going to ask Mr Trump to take special care to keep his voice down when conferring with counsel, so that the jury does not overhear.”

Trump keeps at it.

Attorney Crowley  approaches the bench: “The defendant has been making statements again [that] we can hear at counsel table. He said it is a ‘witch-hunt’, it really is a con-job.”

Judge Kaplan replies: “Mr Trump has the right to be present here. That right can be forfeited, and it can be forfeited if he is disruptive, which is what has been reported to me, and if he disregards court orders. Mr Trump, I hope I don’t have to consider excluding you from the trial … I understand you are probably very eager for me to do that.”

Donald Trump: “I would love it, I would love it.”

Judge Kaplan: “I know you would, you just can’t control yourself in this circumstance, apparently.”

Last word Donald: “You can’t either.”

Now let’s just say it out loud. Trump’s a jerk, and a pain in democracy’s ass. As my mother frequently said to me, “You’re testing my patience.” But he know’s what he’s doing – playing to the court of public opinion, and making a few bucks along the way – while feeding his malignant and insatiable narcissism.

A century ago, there were only 15 democracies worldwide. There are now over 100 representing 2/3 of the global population. The ascendant nature of the basic model suggests progress not perfection.

Indiana University history professor John J. Patrick, in a brilliant little book, Understanding Democracy, dipped into democracy’s messiness, writing that “Differences in opinions and interests are tolerated and even encouraged in the public and private lives of citizens…Democracy in our world implies both collective and personal liberty.”

“Democracies are anchored by Constitutions which define the responsibilities of the various counter-balancing branches of government, and jury a system of laws or rules that apply to all citizens. The Constitution defines the limits on the power of government. It is a tricky balance. The democratic government must be powerful enough to maintain law and order. Yet it must be sufficiently restrained to avoid oppressing individual liberty.”

But maintaining an authentic democracy means keeping it real. Federalist #51, dealt with this delicate balance, stating: “If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed, and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”

Now say what you want about Trump, but he has inadvertently exposed a bunch of bad guys hiding in the cracks. I’m not just talking about the thousand or so January 6 militia insurrectionists sitting in jail cells now instead of instigating brawls in their local bars

 I’m also  talking about you, Leonard Leo, and your friends at the Federalist Society, who schemed for twenty years before successfully packing a Supreme Court willing to topple Roe v. Wade.

And you, Evangelical hypocrites, about who Marv Knox, who directs the Baptist Fellowship Southwest says: “Their theology runs the gamut, from neo-Calvinism to historic fundamentalism, with plenty of iterations in-between. Their attitude spans from aggressive preachers, politicians and internet posers to benign/benighted pew-sitters. But what they have in common is a dumbed down view of salvation, as well as a sold-out idolatry of political power.”

Point being, in the Donald Trump world of “me-me-me,” these characters can no longer hide. They have been forced out into the open by Trump’s constant need for public adulation, exposed, where their ideas and currency can be openly challenged.

We are already seeing the results of transparency. A very healthy democracy is throwing off the shackles of the Dobbs decision. By August, 2023, seven states had conducted abortion related ballot issues that protected abortion access. All seven ballots won easily. During this same period, poll after poll show large majorities of women see the Dobbs decision and regressive subsequent actions in Red States to be repugnant. 

Most women now believe the issue is reproductive freedom, medical autonomy, and much overdue casting aside the chains of patriarchy. In short, once the screen was down, Dobbs supporters faced an extremely rude awakening, which will likely undermine Trump’s hopes for a second term.

Does that mean we can take the eye off the Trump ball. Just the opposite. Why? Because as Professor Patrick reminds, “In an authentic democracy, the citizens or people choose representatives in government by means of free, fair, contested, and regularly scheduled elections in which all adults have the right to vote and otherwise participate in the electoral process.” And as we all know, Trump will cheat you out of a fair election victory if you give him half a chance.

This is exactly not the time to give up on democracy. Open the windows even if the air is frigid. Let freedom ring. And don’t let the door hit you on the way out of court, Mr. Trump.

Does AI Spell The Demise of Relationship Based Health Care?

Posted on | January 15, 2024 | Comments Off on Does AI Spell The Demise of Relationship Based Health Care?

Mike Magee

“What exactly does it mean to augment clinical judgement…?”

That’s the question that Stanford Law professor, Michelle Mello, asked in the second paragraph of a May, 2023 article in JAMA exploring the medical legal boundaries of large language model (LLM) generative AI. 

This cogent question triggered unease among the nation’s academic and clinical medical leaders who live in constant fear of being financially (and more important, psychically) assaulted for harming patients who have entrusted themselves to their care.

That prescient article came out just one month before news leaked about a revolutionary new generative AI offering from Google called Genesis. And that lit a fire.

Mark Minevich, a “highly regarded and trusted Digital Cognitive Strategist,” writing in a December issue of  Forbes, was knee deep in the issue writing, “Hailed as a potential game-changer across industries, Gemini combines data types like never before to unlock new possibilities in machine learning… Its multimodal nature builds on, yet goes far beyond, predecessors like GPT-3.5 and GPT-4 in its ability to understand our complex world dynamically.”

Health professionals have been negotiating this space (information exchange with their patients) for roughly a half century now. Health consumerism emerged as a force in the late seventies. Within a decade, the patient-physician relationship was rapidly evolving, not just in the United States, but across most democratic societies.

That previous “doctor says – patient does” relationship moved rapidly toward a mutual partnership fueled by health information empowerment. The best patient was now an educated patient. Paternalism must give way to partnership. Teams over individuals, and mutual decision making. Emancipation led to empowerment, which meant information engagement.

In the early days of information exchange, patients literally would appear with clippings from magazines and newspapers (and occasionally the National Inquirer) and present them to their doctors with the open ended question, “What do you think of this?” 

But by 2006, when I presented a mega trend analysis to the AMA President’s Forum, the transformative power of the Internet, a globally distributed information system with extraordinary reach and penetration armed now with the capacity to encourage and facilitate personalized research, was fully evident.

Coincident with these new emerging technologies, long hospital length of stays (and with them in-house specialty consults with chart summary reports) were now infrequently used methods of medical staff continuous education. Instead, “reputable clinical practice guidelines represented evidence-based practice” and these were incorporated into a vast array of “physician-assist” products making smart phones indispensable to the day-to-day provision of care. 

At the same time, a several decade long struggle to define policy around patient privacy and fund the development of medical records ensued, eventually spawning bureaucratic HIPPA regulations in its’ wake.

The emergence of generative AI, and new products like Genesis, whose endpoints are remarkably unclear and disputed even among the specialized coding engineers who are unleashing these forces, have created a reality where (at best) health professionals are struggling just to keep up with their most motivated (and often most complexly ill) patients. Needless to say, the Covid based health crisis and human isolation it provoked have only made matters worse.

Like clinical practice guidelines, ChatGPT is already finding its “day in court.”  Lawyers for both the prosecution and defense will ask, “whether a reasonable physician would have followed (or departed from the guideline in the circumstances, and about the reliability of the guideline” – whether it exist on paper or smart phone, and whether generated by ChatGPT or Genesis.

Large language models (LLMs), like humans, do make mistakes. These factually incorrect offerings have charmingly been labeled “hallucinations.” But in reality, for health professionals, they can feel like an “LSD trip gone bad.” This is because the information is derived from a range of opaque sources, currently non-transparent, with high variability in accuracy. 

This is quite different from a physician directed standard Google search where the professional is opening only trusted sources. Instead, Genesis might be equally weighing a NEJM source with the modern day version of the National Inquirer.  Generative AI outputs also have been shown to vary depending on day and syntax of the language inquiry.

Supporters of these new technologic applications admit that these tools are currently problematic but expect machine driven improvement in generative AI to be rapid. They also have the ability to be tailored for individual patients in decision-support and diagnostic settings, and offer real time treatment advice. Finally, they self-update information in real time, eliminating the troubling lags that accompanied “new releases” of original treatment guidelines. 

One thing that is certain is that the field is attracting outsized funding. Experts like Mello predict that specialized applications will flourish. As she writes, “The problem of nontransparent and indiscriminate information sourcing is tractable, and market innovations are already emerging as companies develop LLM products specifically for clinical settings. These models focus on narrower tasks than systems like ChatGPT, making validation easier to perform. Specialized systems can vet LLM outputs against source articles for hallucination, train on electronic health records, or integrate traditional elements of clinical decision support software.”

One serious question remains. In the six-country study I conducted in 2002 (which has yet to be repeated), patients and physicians agreed that the patient-physician relationship was three things – compassion, understanding, and partnership. LLM generative AI products would clearly appear to have a role in informing the last two components. What their impact will be on compassion, which has generally been associated with face to face, and flesh to flesh contact, remains to be seen.

Trump is Mentally Ill. Say It Out Loud.

Posted on | January 6, 2024 | 5 Comments

Sunday Op-Ed:

Mike Magee

With the January 23rd New Hampshire primary in the rear view mirror, and the SC Republican primary February 24th primary fast approaching,  a tragic Donald Trump continues to dig himself into a hole that will eventually lead to some personal hell.

I think we are at a point where Trump’s mental illness is undeniable to most. Those who continue to support his candidacy now do so despite the risk to all of us, and for their own personal gain. There remain a few on the religious right who honestly believe that “God put Trump here for a purpose” (to support patriarchy, outlaw abortion, advance Christian nationalism etc.) A Divine hand at work was part of the immoral justification in both Germany and Japan during WW II as well. That did not end well for the citizens of either nation.

But before Donald Trump, there was William Frederick Kohler.  Kohler, like Trump, was not mentally well. Those who have analyzed this fictional creation of philosopher and novelist William H. Gass, describe him this way:  “Preoccupied with evil, the nature of truth, and the effects of an individual’s relationship with others, he recalls his bookish childhood with a mother who drank to remember the ‘good old days’ and a bigoted father; graduate work in prewar Germany, where he hurled a brick on Kristallnacht; his unhappy marriage … Kohler, the personal memoirist … is as unreliable as Kohler, the eminent historian. A virtuoso performance without a grand finale.”

The real-life Gass who created Kohler was the author of the award winning novel, “The Tunnel.” He died in 2017. He received his PhD from Cornell in 1954, in return for his dissertation “A Philosophical Investigation of Metaphor.”

A metaphor, as we know, is “a figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them (as in drowning in money).”

Gass’s love of metaphor is on full display in “The Tunnel”.  You can almost hear the beloved high school advanced placement English teacher pleadingly asking her sleepy students “What do you think Kohler’s obsession with digging a tunnel in his basement represents?”

Of the novel, one critic wrote, “As the novel progresses we see the lies, half-truths, violent emotions, and relative chaos of Kohler’s life laid bare, and while he continues to dig away at the memories of his past he also begins digging a tunnel out from the basement where he works, a reflection of his tunneling through himself.”

Beyond Gass’s own story line, and that of William Frederick Kohler, one can easily catch glimpses of  Donald Trump.  As he entered the strange world of politics, he embraced the use of metaphor with memorable 3 and 4 word phrases like “drain the swamp”, “the system is rigged,” and “take our country back.” Secretive and opaque, Kohler and Trump focus on a very special audience, one the fictional Kohler labels the “Party of the Disappointed People”, a group with whom he shared the affinity “that the loss has been caused in great part by others.”

Trump mixes old, worn out “dead” metaphors like “take our country back” with occasional “live” ones. When he hits the mark, he makes news. For example, in a 2016 foreign policy speech, he used the metaphor, “shake the rust off American foreign policy” only to have it within days appropriated as a headline in the Financial Times.

Academics, Jurists, Priests, and Corporate CEO’s have been careful not to label Trump as mentally ill. But mentally ill he is.

Sadly, his words in 2024 remind of another influential essayist, Kenneth Burke, whose 1939 masterpiece, The Rhetoric of Hitler’s Battle, is required reading for graduate students from English to Philosophy, and from Political Science to History and Religious Studies. The piece’s main focus involves a critical analysis of Hitler’s Mein Kampf (“my struggle”) which includes this stark warning.

Leaders of the free world need “to discover what kind of ‘medicine’ this medicine-man…concocted, that we may know, with greater accuracy, exactly what to guard against, if we are to forestall the concocting of similar medicine in America.”

Trump too has written his own fictional story; a despotic force with his own signature “idiolect”; as admiring of Nazism as was William Frederick Kohler, and as taken with sticky metaphors as William Gass in search of his own “Party of the Disappointed People.”

Loyal indeed, like zombies, his followers and the Republican Party have followed him into the basement, and are heading down a tunnel which has no end. It has been  “a virtuoso performance without a grand finale”, unless, that is, it be the destruction of our democratic form of government.

On this Epiphany Sunday, the voices of Americans need to rise as one, and declare out loud – “Trump is mentally ill, and unfit to serve as President.”

Another Turn of the 25th Amendment – And Still Not The Answer For Trump’s Mental Illness.

Posted on | January 3, 2024 | 4 Comments

Mike Magee

On May 16, 2017 New York Times conservative columnist, Russ Douthat, wrote “The 25th Amendment Solution for Removing Trump.” That column was the starting point for a Spring course I taught on the 25th Amendment at the President’s College in Hartford, CT. I will not summarize the entire course here, but would like to emphasize four points:

  1. The American public was adequately warned (now 7 years ago) of the risk that Trump represented to our nation and our democracy.
  2. Douthat’s piece triggered a journalistic debate which I summarize below with four slides drawn from my lectures.
  3. Had Pence and the cabinet chosen to activate the 25th Amendment, as it is written, Trump would have had the right to appeal “his inability”, forcing the Congress to decide whether there was cause to remove the President.
  4. Judging from the later impeachment of Trump in the House, but failure to convict in the Senate, it is unlikely a courageous Pence and Cabinet would have been backed by their own party.

Let’s look at four archived slides from the 2017 lecture, and then discuss our current options in the case of 2024 Trump against Democracy.              

Slide 1. Russ Douthat

In 2017, Scott Bomboy, chief of the National Constitution Center, wrote:

“Section 4 is the most controversial part of the 25th Amendment: It allows the Vice President and either the Cabinet, or a body approved ‘by law’ formed by Congress, to jointly agree that ‘the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.’ This clause was designed to deal with a situation where an incapacitated President couldn’t tell Congress that the Vice President needed to act as President.”

“It also allows the President to protest such a decision, and for two-thirds of Congress to decide in the end if the President is unable to serve due to a condition perceived by the Vice President, and either the Cabinet or a body approved by Congress. So the Cabinet, on its own, can’t block a President from using his or her powers if the President objects in writing. Congress would settle that dispute and the Vice President is the key actor in the process.” What might have been (but was not) would have played out this way according to Constitutional scholars:

“… scholars Brian C. Kalt and David Pozen explain the problematic process if the Vice President and the Cabinet agree the President can’t serve.”

  1. “If this group declares a President ‘unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office,’ the Vice President immediately becomes Acting President.
  2. If and when the President pronounces himself able, the deciding group has four days to disagree.
  3. If it does not, the President retakes his powers.
  4. But if it does, the Vice President keeps control while Congress quickly meets and makes a decision…
  5. The Vice President continues acting as President only if two-thirds majorities of both chambers agree that the President is unable to serve.”

Had our leaders followed Russ Douthat’s advice seven years ago, it is highly unlikely that a 2/3rds majority of both chambers of Congress would have had their back. Instead, they went for Impeachment and failed, as Republicans chose rather to let voters decide. And they did, in 2020. Few likely envisioned that mentally deranged (now former President) would launch a January 6th insurrection, embolden white nationalists militia across the nation, and follow thru on threats to run and win a 2nd term in 2024, and then free his followers from jail cells, only to be filled with those who attempted to hold him accountable for his historic misdeeds. The 25th Amendment is no more a solution today than it was in 2017. Instead citizens loyal to our form of government, rely in 2024 on two protective backstops:

  1. Our third pillar of government – The Courts (most especially the Supreme Court.
  2. The voter, whose second day of reckoning fast approaches.

Some believe we are once again engaged in a great Civil War. In its’ summary of the Gettysburg Address, National Geographic states that “Despite (or perhaps because of) its brevity, since (Abraham Lincoln’s) speech was delivered, it has come to be recognized as one of the most powerful statements in the English language and, in fact, one of the most important expressions of freedom and liberty in any language.”

The last paragraph of that two minute speech, delivered now 180 years and two months ago, reminds us that Americans died on “the battlefield” on January 6, 2021 defending our democratic government, and Lincoln’s words are today, more relevant than ever.

As described by historians, Lincoln made it clear that the stakes could not have been higher, well before the Dobbs decision and the appropriation of Hitler’s words by Trump. “Lincoln tied the current struggle to the days of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, speaking of the principles that the nation was conceived in: liberty and the proposition that all men are created equal. Moreover, he tied both to the abolition of slavery—a new birth of freedom—and the maintenance of representative government.

As they were spoken, November 19, 1863, here are Lincoln’s final words, ones that deserve a most careful reading: “It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

2024 Prediction – Society Will Arrive At An Inflection Point in AI Advancement.

Posted on | December 21, 2023 | 4 Comments

Mike Magee

For my parents, March, 1965 was a banner month. First, that was the month that NASA launched the Gemini program, unleashing “transformative capabilities and cutting-edge technologies that paved the way for not only Apollo, but the achievements of the space shuttle, building the International Space Station and setting the stage for human exploration of Mars.” It also was the last month that either of them took a puff of their favored cigarette brand – L&M’s.

They are long gone, but the words “Gemini” and the L’s and the M’s have taken on new meaning and relevance now six decades later.

The name Gemini reemerged with great fanfare on December 6, 2023, when Google chair, Sundar Pichai, introduced “Gemini: our largest and most capable AI model.” Embedded in the announcement were the L’s and the M’s as we see here: “From natural image, audio and video understanding to mathematical reasoning, Gemini’s performance exceeds current state-of-the-art results on 30 of the 32 widely-used academic benchmarks used in large language model (LLM) research and development.

Google’s announcement also offered a head to head comparison with GPT-4 (Generative Pretrained Transformer-4.) It is the product of a non-profit initiative, OpenAI, and was released on March 14, 2023. Microsoft’s AI search engine, Bing, helpfully informs that, “OpenAI is a research organization that aims to create artificial general intelligence (AGI) that can benefit all of humanity…They have created models such as Generative Pretrained Transformers (GPT) which can understand and generate text or code, and DALL-E, which can generate and edit images given a text description.”

While “Bing” goes all the way back to a Steve Ballmer announcement on May 28, 2009, it was 14 years into the future, on February 7, 2023, that the company announced a major overhaul that, 1 month later, would allow Microsoft to broadcast that Bing (by leveraging an agreement with OpenAI) now had more than 100 million users.

Which brings us back to the other LLM (large language model) – GPT-4, which the Gemini announcement explores in a head-to-head comparison with its’ new offering. Google embraces text, image, video, and audio comparisons, and declares Gemini superior to the OpenAI/Microsoft GPT-4.

Mark Minevich, a “highly regarded and trusted Digital Cognitive Strategist,” writing this month in Forbes, seems to agree with this, writing, “Google rocked the technology world with the unveiling of Gemini – an artificial intelligence system representing their most significant leap in AI capabilities. Hailed as a potential game-changer across industries, Gemini combines data types like never before to unlock new possibilities in machine learning… Its multimodal nature builds on yet goes far beyond predecessors like GPT-3.5 and GPT-4 in its ability to understand our complex world dynamically.”

Expect to hear the word “multimodality” repeatedly in 2024 and with emphasis. But academics will be quick to remind that the origins can be traced all the way back to 1952 scholarly debates about “discourse analysis”, at a time when my Mom and Dad were still puffing on their L&M’s. Language and communication experts at the time recognized “a major shift from analyzing language, or mono-mode, to dealing with multi-mode meaning making practices such as: music, body language, facial expressions, images, architecture, and a great variety of communicative modes.”

Minevich believes that “With Gemini’s launch, society has arrived at an inflection point with AI advancement.” Powerhouse consulting group, BCG (Boston Consulting Group), definitely agrees. They’ve upgraded their L&M’s, with a new acronym, LMM, standing for “large multimodal model.” Leonid Zhukov, Ph.D, director of the BCG Global AI Institute, believes “LMMs have the potential to become the brains of autonomous agents—which don’t just sense but also act on their environment—in the next 3 to 5 years. This could pave the way for fully automated workflows.”

BCG predicts an explosion of activity among its corporate clients focused on labor productivity, personalized customer experiences, and accelerated (especially) scientific R&D. But they also see high volume consumer engagement generating content, new ideas, efficiency gains, and tailored personal experiences. 

This seems to be BCG talk for “You ain’t seen nothing yet.” In 2024, they say all eyes are on “autonomous agents.” As they describe what’s coming next: “Autonomous agents are, in effect, dynamic systems that can both sense and act on their environment. In other words, with stand-alone LLMs, you have access to a powerful brain; autonomous agents add arms and legs.”

This kind of talk is making a whole bunch of people nervous. Most have already heard Elon Musk’s famous 2023 quote, “Mark my words, AI is far more dangerous than nukes. I am really quite close to the cutting edge in AI, and it scares the hell out of me.”  BCG acknowledges as much, saying, “Using AI, which generates as much hope as it does horror, therefore poses a conundrum for business… Maintaining human control is central to responsible AI; the risks of AI failures are greatest when timely human intervention isn’t possible. It also demands tempering business performance with safety, security, and fairness… scientists usually focus on the technical challenge of building goodness and fairness into AI, which, logically, is impossible to accomplish unless all humans are good and fair.”

Expect in 2024 to see once again the worn out phrase “Three Pillars”. This time it will be attached to LMM AI, and it will advocate for three forms of “license” to operate:

  1. Legal license – “regulatory permits and statutory obligations.” 
  2. Economic license – ROI to shareholders and executives.
  3. Social license – a social contract delivering transparency, equity and justice to society.

BCG suggests that trust will be the core challenge, and that technology is tricky. We’ve been there before. The 1964 Surgeon General’s report knocked the socks off of tobacco company execs who thought high-tech filters would shield them from liability. But the government report burst that bubble by stating “Cigarette smoking is a health hazard of sufficient importance in the United States to warrant appropriate remedial action.”  Then came the Gemini 6A’s 1st attempt to launch on n December 12,1965.  It was cancelled when its’ fuel igniter failed.

Generative AI driven LMM’s will “likely be transformative,” but clearly will also have its up’s and down’s as well.  As BCG cautions, “Trust is critical for social acceptance, especially in cases where AI can act independent of human supervision and have an impact on human lives.”

A Speech For The Ages – 83 Christmases Ago.

Posted on | December 18, 2023 | 2 Comments

Mike Magee

On the evening of December 29, 1940, with election to his 3rd term as President secured, FDR delivered these words as part of his sixteenth “Fireside Chat”: “There can be no appeasement with ruthlessness…No man can tame a tiger into a kitten by stroking it.”

Millions of Americans, and millions of Britains were tuned in that evening, as President Roosevelt made clear where he stood while carefully avoiding over-stepping his authority in a nation still in the grips of a combative and isolationist opposition party. 

That very evening, the Germans Luftwaffe, launched their largest yet raid on the financial district of London. Their “fire starter” group, KGr 100, initiated the attack with incendiary bombs that triggered fifteen hundred fires that began a conflagration ending in what some labeled the The Second Great Fire of London. Less than a year later, on the eve of another Christmas, we would be drawn into the war with the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Now, 83 Christmases later, with warnings of “poisoning the blood of our people,” we find ourselves contending with our own Hitler here at home.  Trump is busy igniting white supremacist fires utilizing the same vocabulary and challenging the boundaries of decency, safety and civility. What has the rest of the civilized world learned in the meantime?

First, appeasement does not work. It expands the vulnerability of a majority suffering the “tyranny of the minority.”

Second, the radicalized minority will utilize any weapon available, without constraint, to maintain and expand their power.

Third, the battle to save and preserve democracy in these modern times is never fully won. We remain in the early years of this deadly serious conflict, awakened from a self-induced slumber on January 6, 2020.

Hitler was no more an “evil genius” than is Trump. But both advantaged historic and cultural biases and grievances, leveraging them and magnifying them with deliberate lies and media manipulation. Cultures made sick by racism, systemic inequality, hopelessness, patriarchy, and violence, clearly can be harnessed for great harm. But it doesn’t take a “genius.” Churchill never called Hitler a “genius.” Most often he only referred to him as “that bad man.”

The spectacle and emergence of Kevin McCarthy, followed by Mike Johnson, as Speaker of the House, and the contrasting address by House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries as he handed over the gavel, represent just one more skirmish in this “War for Democracy.”  

If our goal is a “healthier” America – one marked by compassion, understanding and partnership; one where fear and worry are counter-acted by touch and comfort; one where linkages between individuals, families, communities and societies are constructed to last – all signals confirm that the time is now to fight with vigor. 

As Churchill vowed on his first day as Prime Minister, “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat.” At about the same time, FDR offered this encouragement, “We have no excuse for defeatism. We have every good reason for hope — hope for peace, yes, and hope for the defense of our civilization and for the building of a better civilization in the future.”

The re-emergence of white supremacists and nationalists, theocratic and patriarchal censorship, and especially post-Dobbs attacks on women’s freedom and autonomy, are real and substantial threats to our form of government. They indeed are minority views, but no more so than the minority in 1940 which allowed a small group of “bad men” to harness a relatively small nation of 70 million people into a force that very nearly conquered the world.

Following the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. Churchill packed his bags and headed directly to a British battleship for the 10-day voyage in rough seas (filled with German U-boats) to Norfolk, VA. Hours after arrival he was aboard a U.S. Navy plane for the 140 mile trip to the White House which he entered in a double breasted peacoat and a naval cap, chomping on a cigar. He would remain the guest of the Roosevelts for the next three weeks, heading home on January 14, 1942.

On Christmas Eve, he joined the President on the South Portico of the White House for the lighting of the White House Christmas tree. Here is what Churchill said to the President’s guests and 15,000 onlookers: “Let the children have their night of fun and laughter. Let gifts of Father Christmas delight their play. Let us share to the full in their unstinted pleasures before we turn again to the stern tasks and formidable year that lie before us. Resolve! – that by our sacrifice and daring, these same children shall not be robbed their inheritance and denied their right to live in a free and decent world.”

He spent the following day working on a speech to be delivered to a Joint Meeting of Congress on December 26, 1941, the kind of a Pep talk all good and decent people of America could benefit from today.  As we ourselves have learned since January 6, 2021, Churchill was right to warn us of complacency and caution, and that “many disappointments and unpleasant surprises await us.”  

He was clear and concise when he warned that day that Hitler and his Nazis (whom Trump so openly admires) possessed powers that “are enormous; they are bitter; they are ruthless.” But these “wicked men…know they will be called to terrible account…Now, we are the masters of our fate…The task which has been set is not above our strength. Its’ pangs and trials are not beyond our endurance.”

“Trump will be defeated,” he would say were he with us today. “You may be sure of that!” But we must be up to the task – brave, organized, and strategic. Now is the time, and as the British Times of London editorial reminded in 1942, as Churchill set foot once again on homeland after his American visit, timing is everything. “His visit to the United States has marked a turning-point of the war. No praise can be too high for the far-sightedness and promptness of the decision to make it.”

Tech Ethicist Says, “AI impact on society and culture will be unimaginable.”

Posted on | December 12, 2023 | Comments Off on Tech Ethicist Says, “AI impact on society and culture will be unimaginable.”

Mike Magee

His biography states, “He speaks to philosophical questions about the fears and possibilities of new technology and how we can be empowered to shape our future. His work to bridge cultures spans artificial intelligence, cognition, language, music, creativity, ethics, society, and policy.”

He embraces the title “cross-disciplinary,” and yet his PhD thesis at UC Berkeley in 1980 “was one of the first to spur the paradigm shift toward machine learning based natural language processing technologies.” Credited with inventing and building “the world’s first global-scale online language translator that spawned Google Translate, Yahoo Translate, and Microsoft Bing Translator,” he is clearly a “connector” in a world currently consumed by “dividers.” In 2019, Google named De Kai as “one of eight inaugural members of its AI Ethics Council.”

The all encompassing challenge of our day, as he sees it, is relating to each other. As he says, “The biggest fear is fear itself – the way AI amplifies human fear exponentially…turning us upon ourselves through AI powered social media driving misinformation, divisiveness, polarization, hatred and paranoia.”  The value system he embraces “stems from a liberal arts perspective emphasizing creativity in both technical and humanistic dimensions.”

Dr. De Kai is feeling especially urgent these days, which is a bit out of character. As a 7 year old child of Chinese immigrants in St. Louis, he spoke little English, saying what needed to be said on the family’s piano. Summers were spent back and forth between Hong Kong and the states. Others noticed he’d sneak in some blues to the classical pieces, causing his grandfather to remark that the synthesis pieces sounded “Chinese” to him. This led the budding linguist/musicologist to later reflect that “That got me thinking. I realized that the way we understand music is really dependent on the cultural frame of reference we adopt.”

Music and technology married during his PhD work at UC Berkeley, and eventually grounded four decades of research in “natural language processing and computational creativity.” He has earned the right to chill, but is anything but at ease these days, and the cause of his anguish is existential artificial intelligence.

As he said recently, “We are on the verge of breaking all our social, cultural and governmental norms…Our social norms were not designed to handle this level of stress.”

De Kai has morphed into an AI Ethicist. He is on a personal quest and anxious to bare his soul. The questions that keep him up at night all consider whether he is parenting his “AI children” properly. “Am I setting a good example? Am I a good role model? Do I speak respectfully to AI and teach them to respect diversity, or do I show them that it’s okay to insult people online?” Surprisingly, he is not alone, as the New York Times reported today on an initiative by high school students to expand (rather than diminish) high school AI literacy in their school in northern New Jersey.

His focus is solidly on the here and now, because he doesn’t believe time is on our side. “We have more AIs today that are part of our society. These are functioning, integral, active, imitative, learning, influential members of society more than most — probably more influential than 90 percent of human society — in shaping culture…Even though these are really weak AI’s, the culture that we are jointly shaping with our artificial members of society is the one under which every successive stronger generation of AI’s will be learning and spreading their culture. We are already in that cycle and we don’t realize it because we don’t look at machines from a sociological standpoint… This is unprecedented, given the ways we have created to develop and relate, both good and bad, will be exponentially increased by AI. In this way, the impact it will have on society and culture will be unimaginable.”

Raising “mindful AI’s” in the age of Trump is no small feat. It demands that AI children be “mindful of their ethical responsibilities.” Pulling this off in the developed world with an increasingly fractured educational system that pits science/technology against humanities will be a remarkable challenge. As De Kai puts it, “It is the single worst possible time in history to have an education system that cripples people to be unable to think deeply across these boundaries, about what humanity is in the face of technology.

To accomplish “A.I. alignment with the goals of humanity,” may require Americans to examine their own health and wellness in a manner that could be profoundly uncomfortable. Population welfare, philosophical treatises, and political compromise are not exactly our cultural strong suits. 

How will we do with these competing priorities, wonders De Kai in a recent New York Times Op-Ed:  “Short-term instant gratification? Long-term happiness? Avoidance of extinction? Individual liberties? Collective good? Bounds on inequality? Equal opportunity? Degree of governance? Free speech? Safety from harmful speech? Allowable degree of manipulation? Tolerance of diversity? Permissible recklessness? Rights versus responsibilities?” 

“Culture matters. A.I.s are now an everyday part of our society”,says De Kai. Changing culture, as health professionals know, is a tall order. It is about compassion, understanding and partnerships. It is about healing, providing health, and keeping individuals, families and communities whole. And – most importantly – it is about managing population-wide fear, worry and anxiety. 

What De Kai is setting out to do is to change our historic culture (one built on self-interest, hyper-competitiveness, and distrust of good government). This is a tall order – something that parents, pastors, politicians and physicians equally recognize. Things evolve, and difficult things take time.

But the New Jersey students seem up to the challenge. As 10th grader, Tessa Klein told the Times, “A.I. is actually a huge human rights issue because it perpetuates biases. We felt the need for our students to learn how these biases are being created by these A.I. systems and how to identify these biases.” 12th grader, Naomi Roth, added, “I think kids need to be able to critique it and assess it and use it.”

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