Island in the Net

A personal blog by Khürt Williams, full of inchoate writing on photography, coffee, and geekery.

Menu Close

Reading List – organized violence, human rights, autonomous vehicles

  • Aperture—ƒ/6.3
  • Camera—NIKON D40
  • Taken—27 March, 2011
  • Copyright—© Khürt L. Williams
  • Focal length—35mm
  • ISO—200
  • Location—40° 20.7823′ 0″ N 74° 39.4708′ 0″ W
  • Shutter speed—1/80s

Human rights and the West.

The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion, but rather by its superiority in applying organised violence. Westerners often forget this fact, non-Westerners never do.Ismael Lagardienne

Undocumented workers in New Jersey:

They commit no crime by simply being here without “proper papers”; they are like jaywalkers who walked across the borderOpinion: Complex Truths Versus Simple Thinking About the Undocumented

Will autonomous vehicles save lives or kill us all?

The problem with a long-tailed phenomenon is that the longer we looked at it, the less we understood what to expect. The more we sampled, the bigger the average turned out to be. Why should we think that stopping at 1 billion samples will be enough?

To see these numbers in more vivid terms, imagine that we are considering using some new technology that appears to be quite beneficial. The technology is being considered to combat some problem that kills about 36,000 people per year. (This is the number of traffic-related deaths in the United States in 2012.) We cannot calculate exactly how many people will die once the new technology is introduced, but we can perform some simulations and see how they come out. Suppose that each number sampled above corresponds to the number of people who will die in one year with the technology in place (in one run of the simulation). The big question here is: Should the new technology be introduced?

According to the sampling above, most of the time, we would get well below 100 deaths per year with the new technology, which would be phenomenally better than the current 36,000. In fact, the simulations show that 99.9 percent of the time, we would get well below 10,000 deaths. So that looks terrific. Unfortunately, the simulations also show us that there is a one-in-a-thousand chance of getting 1 million deaths, which would be indescribably horrible. And if that were not all, there also appears to be a one-in-a-million chance of wiping out all of humanity. Not so good after all!Common Sense, the Turing Test, and the Quest for Real AI