Posts Tagged ‘Korea’

Musk, Killer Robots, Trump, the Eclipse

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2017

By Bob Gaydos

Donald Trump looking at the solar eclipse.

Donald Trump looking at the solar eclipse.

Elon Musk and Donald Trump made significant scientific statements this week. Digest that sentence for a second. …

OK, it’s not as strange as it sounds because each man was true to himself. That is, neither message was surprising, considering the source, but each was important, also considering the source.

Monday, Musk and 115 other prominent scientists in the field of robotics and artificial intelligence attending a conference in Melbourne, Australia, delivered a letter to the United Nations urging a ban on development and use of killer robots. This is not science fiction.

Responding to previous urging by members of the group of AI and robotics specialists, the UN had recently voted to hold formal discussions on so-called autonomous weapons. With their open letter, Musk and the others, coming from 26 countries, wanted the UN to be clear about their position — these are uniquely dangerous weapons and not so far off in the future.

Also on Monday, on the other side of the planet, as millions of Americans, equipped with special glasses or cardboard box viewers,  marveled at the rare site of a solar eclipse, Trump, accompanied by his wife, Melania, and their son, Barron, walked out onto a balcony at the White House and stared directly at the sun. No glasses. No cardboard box. No problem. I’m Trump. Watch me give the middle finger to science.

Of course, the only reason Trump shows up in the same sentence as Musk in a scientific discussion is that the man with the orange hair holds the title of president of the United States and, as such, has the power to decide what kind of weapons this nation employs and when to use them. Also, the president — any president — has the power, through words and actions, to exert profound influence on the beliefs, attitudes and opinions of people used to looking to the holder of the office to set an example. Hey, if it’s good enough for the president, it’s good enough for me. This is science fiction.

Please, fellow Americans, don’t stare at the sun during the next eclipse.

Trump’s disdain for science (for knowledge of any kind, really) and his apparently pathological need to do the opposite of what more knowledgeable people recommend, regardless of the topic, are a dangerous combination. When you’re talking about killer robots, it’s a potentially deadly one.

The U.S.Army Crusher robotic weapon.

The U.S.Army Crusher robotic weapon.

How deadly? Here’s a quote from the letter the AI specialists wrote: “Once developed, lethal autonomous weapons will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever, and at timescales faster than humans can comprehend. These can be weapons of terror, weapons that despots and terrorists use against innocent populations, and weapons hacked to behave in undesirable ways.

“We do not have long to act. Once this Pandora’s box is opened, it will be hard to close.”

In fact, it’s already opened. On the Korean peninsula — brimming with diplomatic tension, the rattling of nuclear weapons by the North Koreans and the corresponding threats of “fire and fury” from Trump — a fixed-place sentry gun, reportedly capable of firing autonomously, is in place along the South Korean side of the Demilitarized Zone.

Developed by Samsung for South Korea, the gun reportedly has an autonomous system capable of surveillance up to two miles, voice-recognition, tracking and firing with mounted machine gun or grenade launcher. There is disagreement over whether the weapon is actually deployed to operate on its own, but it can. Currently, the gun and other autonomous weapons being developed by the U.S., Russia, Germany, China, the United Kingdom and others require a human to approve their actions, but usually in a split-second decision. There is little time to weigh the consequences and the human will likely assume the robot is correct rather than risk the consequences of an incorrect second-guess.

But it is precisely the removal of the human element from warfare that Musk and the other AI developers are worried about. Removing the calculation of deaths on “our side” makes deciding to use a killer robot against humans on the other side much easier. Too easy perhaps. And robots that can actually make that decision remove the human factor entirely. A machine will not agonize over causing the deaths of thousands of “enemies.”

And make no mistake, the robots will be used to kill humans as well as destroy enemy machines. Imagine a commander-in-chief who talks cavalierly about using nuclear weapons against a nation also being able to deploy robots that will think for themselves about who and what to attack. No second-guessing generals.

Musk, a pioneer in the AI field, has also been consistent with regard to his respect for the potential danger posed to humans by machines that think for themselves or by intelligences — artificial or otherwise — that are infinitely superior to ours. The Tesla CEO has regularly spoken out, for example, against earthlings sending messages into space to try to contact other societies, lest they deploy their technology to destroy us. One may take issue with him on solar energy, space exploration, driverless cars, but one dismisses his warnings on killer robots at one’s own risk. He knows whereof he speaks.

Trump is another matter. His showboating stunt of a brief look at the sun, sans glasses, will probably not harm his eyes. But the image lingers and the warnings, including one from his own daughter, Ivanka, were explicit: Staring directly at the sun during the eclipse can damage your retina and damage your vision. Considering the blind faith some of his followers display in his words and actions, it was yet another incredibly irresponsible display of ego and another insult to science.

Artificial intelligence is not going away. It has the potential for enormous benefit. If you want an example of its effect on daily life just look at the impact autonomous computer programs have on the financial markets. Having weapons that can think for themselves may also sound like a good idea, especially when a commander-in-chief displays erratic judgment, but their own creators — and several human rights groups — urge the U.N. to ban their use as weapons, in the same way chemical weapons and land mines are banned.

It may be one of the few remaining autonomous decisions humans can make in this area, and the most important one. We dare not wait until the next eclipse to make it.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Trump, Korea, the Marines and a Photo

Friday, August 11th, 2017

By Bob Gaydos

The photo that inspired a nation ... in spite of the facts.

The photo that inspired a nation … in spite of the facts.

“Well, that’s good,” I said to myself with a tension-reducing sigh. Congress is taking August off and the Senate actually took steps to keep Trump from making any recess appointments should he decide to, say, fire the attorney general or anyone else. That probably didn’t sit well with the Donald, but what the heck, I figured, he’s going on another vacation, so what trouble could he possibly get us into?

 Yeah, I know. A momentary lapse of judgment on my part, perhaps prompted by a need for some relief from the constant drumbeat of incoherent, inarticulate, insensitive, insulting, indecent and incredibly embarrassing flow of bigotry and B.S. coming from the White House. A vocabulary-challenging administration.

I guess he figured a man can’t play golf and tweet all the time, so why not go mano-a-mano with North Korea over nuclear war. Ramp up the language and fire up the still-remaining base of support who don’t want to think about Russia or losing their health insurance because, after all, the Muslims are coming, the Muslims are coming. And Kim what’s-his-name, too!

It has come to this: Trump’s own staff members are telling us to ignore what he says. Don’t worry, says the secretary of state. Senators and generals are ignoring what he says. But the world is not ignoring what he says because, like it or not, he speaks for this nation.

I don’t like it.

Not when he talks so cavalierly about taking the lives of hundreds of thousands of people because of his ego. Not when he shows no awareness of the devastating power of nuclear weapons. Not when he displays no comprehension of the wisdom of trying to avoid war through frank and honest diplomacy: You have weapons; we have more weapons. We will suffer greatly. You will be destroyed. No one wins. What do you want to allow your people to see what a magnificent leader you are by giving up your nuclear weapons and giving your people a better life? Let’s talk.

What gets lost in this frenetic, theoretical talk about war is the simple fact of the individual lives that will be ended. Even efforts by some politicians to lower the threat level to Americans by saying any war with North Korea will not be nuclear and will be fought on the Korean peninsula ignore this fact. It is obviously intended to relieve Americans’ fears of war on their homeland, but conveniently overlooks the fact that, in addition to Koreans, it will be young American men and women fighting and dying on the Korean peninsula, which they have already done once before. Failure to negotiate a peace settlement after that war has led to a divided nation and well-armed ceasefire for more than half a century.

Trump’s ”fire and fury” remarks regarding North Korea coincided with the anniversary of the U.S. dropping an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, to hasten the end of World War II with Japan in 1945. The reasoning by President Harry S Truman and his advisers at the time was that a traditional military invasion of Japan with a million or so troops would cost  hundreds of thousands of Allied deaths given the Japanese strategy of everyone, soldier or not, fighting to the death.

Whether or not one agrees with Truman’s decision, he and his advisers were undoubtedly correct in their assessment of a traditional invasion. Not long before the bomb was dropped, U.S. Marines fought their bloodiest, most courageous, most decorated battle on Iwo Jima, an island fortress defending the Japanese homeland. As recounted in often painful detail in the book, “Flags Of Our Fathers,” by James Bradley and Ron Powers, the conquest of Iwo, commemorated with the planting of the American flag on Mount Suribachi, was the result of sending wave after wave of young American men, with no cover, to attack a heavily armed, entrenched, literally underground, Japanese army and eventually overwhelming the enemy by determination, incredible bravery, and sheer numbers.

That is a strategy. A terribly costly one as it turned out for thousands of American families who lost sons, brothers, fathers, uncles, friends on the beaches of Iwo and on the slopes of Suribachi. It was thought to be necessary by some, at the time, in order to defeat an enemy that didn’t recognize any so-called rules of warfare. Maybe it was, but a nation that respects and cherishes its young people still ought not casually consider sending them off to die or be wounded in any war, however justified it may sound.

That’s what I hate most about Trump’s and others’ flippant remarks about war. They ignore the cost in lives, in futures, in dreams, by wrapping everything in a flag of patriotism. Duty. Honor. Courage.

In addition to being a chilling account of combat, “Flags Of Our Fathers,” which I’m reading as part of a stash of used books I recently bought at the library, provides a perfect example of Americans refusing to take an event at face value and, instead, repackaging it to fit their preconceived notions. It is about one of the most famous photographs ever taken — six Marines raising the American flag on Mount Suribachi. The photo brought hope to a war-weary nation, became a famous monument, propelled a successful bond tour to support the war effort, inspired a John Wayne movie. Today, it remains a stirring symbol of American courage.

But the photo itself was not of a heroic moment. As the authors recount, it was a lucky shot by AP photographer Joe Rosenthal at a second flag-raising, after the heroic one following an assault up Suribachi a day earlier. The Marine commander wanted a larger flag flying over Iwo. The men who planted the second flag happened to be there. Photos were taken. One was dramatic. They became heroes back home, sought after everywhere for much of their lives. As often as the three flag-raisers who survived Iwo Jima tried to tell the real story of the flag, they were ignored. The photo was too powerful. It said so much of what Americans wanted it to say. Needed it to say.

Bradley’s father, Jack “Doc” Bradley, was identified as one of the six flag-raisers, but even that remains questioned today. A medical corpsman who was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions on Iwo, all he and the others ever said was that the real heroes were the Marines and Navy corpsmen who died on the island — 6,800 of them. The Japanese suffered 22,000 casualties, mostly deaths. American casualties exceeded 26,000. One battle. One island. Two flags.

As a nation, we have a tendency to try to make things — flag-raisings, presidents — fit our perceptions (our hopes and wishes perhaps), so that we don’t have to face reality. War is brutal. Talk is cheap.

The Iwo Jima photo, while it does not represent an actual heroic moment in combat, has come to symbolize the heroism of U.S. Marines, especially at Iwo Jima. It has obtained true, lasting value because it represents something real — the courage, determination, resilience, loyalty, and brotherhood the Marines demonstrated on Iwo Jima and, indeed, have demonstrated throughout their proud history. If you need to raise a flag, they are there. They are the real deal.

Take as many photos of Donald Trump as you want. Wearing that silly Make America Great Again cap if you want. Wrap him in flags and give him tough-sounding words if you want. Gild the lily all you want. It doesn’t matter. The image will never match the reality of the man’s history. Gutless and callous and phony to the core.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

No One Told Me How Hard This Job Was

Saturday, April 29th, 2017

By Bob Gaydos

“I loved my previous life. I had so many things going. This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier.”

— Donald J. Trump, in an interview with Reuters

Who knew?

Who knew?

Wow, has it really been only 100 days since America started to be great again? Seems like … a heck of a lot more. In fact, it seems like ages since the same Mr. Trump said, “We are sending an armada, very powerful. We have submarines, very powerful, far more powerful than the aircraft carrier. We have the best military people on Earth. And I will say this: [North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un] is doing the wrong thing.”

Remember that? He was talking to Fox News. That was way back when he tried to fake out Kim by warning him that an aircraft carrier group was steaming towards North Korea when it was really heading in the opposite direction to the Indian Ocean? Kind of like hiring someone to do a job and then not paying them, you know? It always worked in business, so I guess he figured it was worth a try on an unpredictable dictator with a million-man army and a hankering for nuclear missiles.

Although, I’d imagine Mr. Trump must have been somewhat embarrassed when his admirals said they didn’t know anything about any ships steaming to Korea. But heck, they finally worked it out and they’re there now, so good for them, right? And Mr. Trump said not to worry, war-lovers, a “major” conflict with North Korea was still not out of the range of possibility if Kim continued to engage in provocative behavior. Except Mr. Trump doesn’t like to use big words, so he said something like, “If Kim (which one, guys?) keeps doing bad things we might have to attack him.”

The narcissist-in-chief (NIC) likes simple declarative sentences. Nothing complex. Direct communication. Look at his tax plan. One page, 200 words. No messing around with details like revenues and deficits. Huge tax cuts for very rich people. I promised it, now do it, staff. That’s a leader. This is what those voters wanted to see and hear.

Not that he’s a dictator, though. He showed how flexible he can be on his campaign promises by not insisting that a budget bill to keep the government operating for another week include $3 billion to start that wall the Mexicans keep refusing to pay for. Well, he did insist at first, but when Congress said no, he showed he could be flexible. He put off the wall for a few months.

He did the same thing with his threat to cut off funds that allow poor people to get health insurance through Obamacare if Congress didn’t get rid of his predecessor’s legacy achievement. Yessir, the NIC said in clear, concise terms that he’d hold up any budget deal and cut off Obamacare Medicaid funds unless Congress made good on his promise of a new health care plan right now. But again, he showed how flexible he could be by saying OK when Congress said “no way” to his threat. Now that’s a good leader, right?

… This is not normal, people.

The only honest thing the NIC has said since being elected is that he thought the job would be easier. He couldn’t bring himself to say it’s way too hard for him, that he’s woefully ill-prepared intellectually, emotionally and spiritually for the most important job on the planet. He did manage to say that measuring a president by his first 100 days in office — a traditional benchmark he promoted strongly while running for the office — was actually an artificial (he probably said “fake”) measure of a president’s accomplishments … although he also said his first 100 days were clearly the best ever.

Well, they did result in the lowest approval rating at that juncture of any president — 41 percent. In fact, according to the YouGOV/Economist poll, “What Americans saw in President Trump as he was inaugurated nearly 100 days ago is more or less the same things they see today: Opinions of his qualities and his presidency have changed little. The public is more negative than positive about his performance, and most continue to find weaknesses in his honesty, empathy and temperament.”

Let that last, subtle sentence sink in.

And yet, 31 percent of the public (mostly Republicans) say he has performed better than they expected, according to the poll. This may suggest that a lot of people had really low expectations of Trump going in, or that they are just as delusional as he is. I offer no Option C.

That poll also reported that, in general, Americans like Barack Obama a lot more than they do Donald Trump. Shocker. To the question, “Regardless of whether you agree with him, do you like Donald Trump as a person?” people responded: Like a lot, 23 percent; like somewhat, 20 percent; dislike 45 percent.

On Obama: Like a lot, 44 percent; like somewhat, 27 percent; dislike, 18 percent.

So most Americans would probably rather play golf with Obama than Trump.

Still, a bit more than 10 percent of the people polled apparently couldn’t decide if they liked or disliked either man, which to me is mind-boggling and also a contributing factor as to how we wound up with a phony, misogynistic, narcissistic, lying, ignorant, immature, rude, bullying, lazy, ill-informed, bigoted con man in the Oval Office.

It’s 100 days. Let’s not beat around the bush anymore folks.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

GOP Turns Back the Clock on Women

Sunday, August 9th, 2015

By Bob Gaydos

Donald Trump gestures during GOP debate. politifact photos

Donald Trump gestures during GOP debate.
politifact photos

North Korea announced last week that it was moving its clocks back 30 minutes, thereby creating its own time zone a half hour behind Japan and South Korea, for whom North Korea has no love.

Not to be outdone, the Republican Party in the UnIted States revealed that it was turning its clocks back 60 or 70 years, creating a world in which women’s lives, health — indeed their very dignity as human beings — does not matter if it means losing votes in the party’s presidential primaries.

Since North Korea has never really left the Cold War era, the world will survive its time change with little inconvenience. It is not so easy, however, to dismiss what is happening with the Republican Party. Never mind Lincoln, this is no longer even the party of Eisenhower, Reagan or Bush the senior.

What was billed as a presidential debate last week turned out to be an all-out misogynistic effort to cast women as second-class citizens, or less. Donald Trump, who has made himself the mouth and face of today’s Republican Party, has received much of the post-debate criticism for his crude remarks about women in general and debate moderator Megyn Kelly in particular.

Kelly dared to question Trump about his at various times calling women “fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals” and wondering what a women contestant on his TV show, “The Apprentice,” would “look like on her knees.” Kelly asked him if this was the kind of person who should be sitting in the Oval Office. He replied that he had no time for “political correctness.’’ After the debate, Trump called Kelly a “bimbo” on Twitter, saying she “behaved very badly” and some of her questions “were not nice.” He also said in a post-debate interview, “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out her wherever.”

This, of course, is Trump and, predictably, he does not apologize for anything he said. He mistakes common decency for political correctness. He is a bully and an embarrassment as a presidential candidate for a major party, but an embarrassment created by the very Fox News network for whom Kelly works. And he gets applause and laughs from Republican audiences who come to hear him say what many of them apparently believe.

But not one of the other nine men on stage with Trump on Thursday saw fit to call him out for being a sexist pig. In fact, most of them had their own fuel to add to the anti-female furor. There was Sen. Marco Rubio insisting that women who were rape or incest victims should carry their pregnancies to term and Gov. Scott Walker refusing to make an exception on abortion if the woman’s life were at risk. Even after the debate, not one of the 16 other Republican candidates for president could simply say straight out that Trump’s remarks were crude, offensive, or, at the very least, inappropriate.

Even the lone female candidate, Carly Fiorina, relegated to the junior varsity debate of seven candidates that preceded the main event, couldn’t call Trump out by name. She only managed to say, “It’s not helpful to call people names” or “engage in personal insult.” Fiorina is a graduate of Stanford, Maryland and MIT and ran Hewlett Packard for six years. If Trump were one of her executives at HP and said the things he has said about women, you can believe he would have heard, “You’re fired!” loud and clear. But she’s running for president as a Republican and so she apparently feels she can’t afford to insult the people who show up to listen to Trump say whatever comes into his mind. By the way, she also opposes paid maternity leave.

There’s more. There’s Jeb Bush insisting that the federal government spends too much money on women’s health care and the willingness of several GOP candidates to shut down the federal government to avoid funding for Planned Parenthood, which is a vital source of health care for millions of women and, although attacked routinely by Republicans as a source of abortions, is, in fact, a major force for reducing the number of abortions.

Some Republican “strategists” say the media focus on Trump and his penchant for insulting large groups of people (Mexican immigrants are “rapists and murderers,” Sen. John McCain is “no war hero” because he was captured), will not do any lasting harm to the party because Trump will not win the nomination. That is absurd. Whether he is the eventual candidate or not, Trump has already shown the GOP for what it is — a party driven by fear. There is a pathological fear of offending the ultra-conservative, white, mostly male, “Christian” moralists who threaten to reject any Republican candidate who does not share their fears of people who are different from them, be they non-white, gay, non-Christian, young, immigrant, or even a president of the United States who happens to be black.

Now, it’s women. More than half the population of the country. Without strong support from women, no candidate can be elected president. In every presidential election since 1988, women have supported the Democratic candidate. Yet not one Republican candidate for president this year has something to offer females as a reason for deserving their votes. It is a cavalcade of clowns (Trump, Rick Perry, Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, Bobby Jindal), con men (Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul), bullies (Chris Christie), religious zealots (Rick Santorum), phonies in the pocket of PACS (Bush, Walker, Rubio) and fear-mongers (too many to list).

North Korea changed its time zone because it hates Japan. However impractical the move, it won’t do serious harm and North Korea actually has some history to help justify it (World War II). Why Republicans are behaving as if they hate women is incomprehensible and possibly suicidal. And they can’t blame it all on Donald Trump.