Linkblog | Google apologizes for ‘missing the mark’ after Gemini generated racially diverse Nazis

from the are-we-the-baddies? dept

What we currently call “AI” isn’t actually intelligence; it’s just pattern-matching. A colleague of mine calls it “spicy autocomplete.” Unfortunately the rapid development of this spicy autocomplete has led to an expectation of intelligence that doesn’t actually exist.

Take this article, for example. It’s pretty clear what happened: in an attempt to address the issue of systemic racism in AI, Google has added in some sort of “prompt salting” (there’s probably an actual terme d’art for this, but I don’t know what it is and I like that this hearkens back to “spicy autocomplete”) that automatically appends “…and don’t make them all white” to prompts asking for pictures of people.

It’s the naive solution, but it also probably solves the problem decently well for most requests.

Still, the AI doesn’t know what a “Founding Father” is, any more than it knows what a hand is. The LLM doesn’t even know what a “picture” is; it just knows that there’s a strong pattern of the word “picture” being associated with some other format it can’t read. And the image generator doesn’t know what “diverse” means, it just knows that the neurons matching pictures of non-white folks should light up when it sees that word. Both of them could probably tell you a pretty convincing fiction or draw you a pretty convincing picture about their understanding of both of those concepts, but only because we’ve drawn diagrams and written definitions that they can scrape and pattern-match.

And so, when it tries to generate a picture of “German soldiers from 1943,” the LLM (or some dumber algorithm) recognizes a pattern that it determines is asking for a picture of a group of people and appends “…and don’t make them all white.” The image generator, not knowing any better, dutifully does so. It doesn’t know anything about revisionist history or whataboutism, it just pattern matches a photo of Nazis with the added instruction of including diversity.

All of this is why AIs, while impressive and even convincing, are still not a replacement for humans; they don’t have any true understanding of context. Just educated guesses and pattern matching. And since the internet is the source of those patterns…well. Let’s just call this a reminder that it isn’t ready for anything more than helping us out with simple tasks.

Linkblog | Jon Stewart Tackles The Biden-Trump Rematch That Nobody Wants | The Daily Show

from the importunate-widow desk

Note: moderate language advisory for this video

Jon Stewart Tackles The Biden-Trump Rematch That Nobody Wants | The Daily Show
Jon Stewart kicks off his Daily Show Monday night residency by coming to grips with the reality of America's two chronologically challenged presidential cand...

Jon Stewart is back on The Daily Show. For one day a week, at least. His first show was this past Monday, and he came out swinging with a piece about the upcoming presumptive election battle between Joe Biden and Donald Trump. The whole piece is good (it’s worth asking why we have to choose between two very old men of whom the question of capacity at least has to be asked, when there are plenty of capable and qualified people under the age of 50 who could be on the ballot).

But his closing words are a tour de force.

So what’s the good news? …That was not rhetorical framing, I’m literally asking you.

Look, the next nine months or so (and more than that, depending on the coup schedule)— they’re gonna suck […] it’s all gonna make you feel like Tuesday, November 5th is the only day that matters. And that day does matter, but man, November 6th ain’t nothin’ to sneeze at, or November 7th.

If your guy loses, bad things might happen, but the country is not over. And if your guy wins, the country is in no way saved. I’ve learned one thing over these last nine years [note: since his first run on The Daily Show ended]—and I was glib at best, and probably dismissive at worst about this: the work of making this world resemble one that you would prefer to live in is a lunch-pail [bleep] job, day in and day out, where thousands of committed, anonymous, smart, and dedicated people bang on closed doors and pick up those that are fallen and grind away at issues ’til they get a positive result—and even then have to stay on to make sure that result holds.

So the good news is, I’m not saying you don’t have to worry about who wins the election. I’m saying you have to worry about every day before it and every day after, for-ever.

Although, on the plus side, I am told that at some point, the sun will run out of hydrogen.

If you’re a Christian like me, please resist the urge to mentally tone-police or redraft Stewart’s statement here. Yes, the word “worry” is a little bit outside our theological preference. Yes, the nihilism of the sun’s eventual demise is far from the actual hope we have in the future. Yes, the Lord is sovereign over our elections.

But the message he’s sending here comports with Christian theology, as well as probably every theological framework people in our world subscribe to. Namely: that the fate of the world isn’t decided on a single day, and the outcome of even the most fateful days is less important than that of the days that precede it and follow it; and that our role in the meantime is to keep trying to make this world resemble the one that you would want to live in (Jeremiah 29:7), to pick up those who are fallen (Matthew 10:7-8), and to grind away at issues ’til you get a positive result (Luke 18:1-8).

And Stewart is framing this as good news! Because it’s funny, yes—but also because it brings things to within our sphere of influence. We can affect the way this world works, and in fact we should. We have the ability and opportunity to make changes.

So let’s do that.

A Lunar Itinerary

The hilarious image of the Apollo 11 astronauts’ US Customs form, filled out upon their return to Earth through Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, has been going around the internet again; so I thought I might share one of my favorite little pieces of NASA spaceflight miscellanea: Buzz Aldrin’s travel expenses.

Upon returning to Earth from his history-making trip to the lunar surface, Buzz Aldrin filled out a travel expense voucher to get reimbursed for his “official travel.” It’s a delightfully mundane and hilarious thing, that nonetheless highlights some pretty interesting stuff about the jaw-dropping trip to the moon that he, Neil Armstrong, and Michael Collins undertook fifty-five years ago this summer.

His official itinerary is more detailed than the one provided on the customs form. Here it is in full, with some annotation. All dates are, naturally, in July of 1969:

7-7 | LV: Residence | 0445 | POV
(note: POV means “Privately Owned Vehicle.” Aldrin reported 8 miles for this leg of the journey and was reimbursed 56¢.)
7-7 | AR: EAFB | 0500
(note: EAFB is “Ellington Air Force Base” in Houston)
7-7 | LV: EAFB | 0530 | Gov. Air
7-7 | AR: Cape Kennedy, Fla. | 0800
7-16 | LV: Cape Kennedy, Fla. | 0832 | Gov. Spacecraft
(note: Saturn V serial number SA-506, of course)
7-19 | AR: Moon | 1325
7-21 | LV: Moon | 2400 | Gov. Spacecraft
(note: transfer from NASA LM-5 Eagle to NASA CSM-107 Columbia not listed)
7-24 | AR: Pacific Ocean | 0600
(note: at 13°19′N 169°9′W in the North Pacific, about 920 miles or 1480 km from Honolulu)
7-24 | LV: Pacific Ocean | 0800 | USN Hornett
(note: Aldrin misspelled the name of the US navy aircraft carrier Hornet here.)
7-26 | AR: Hawaii | 0900
(note: Pearl Harbor, to be specific)
7-26 | LV: Hawaii | 1200 | USAF Plane
(note: the particular plane was a C-141B Starlifter designated 66-7958 USAF, which I cannot find a name for.)
7-27 | AR: EAFB | 0100
7-27 | LV: EAFB | 0215 | Gov. Veh.
(note: the Government Vehicle in question was the Mobile Quarantine Facility (MQF), a converted Airstream trailer. They would stay in the MQF for three weeks. Actually, they boarded the MQF on the Hornet; it was then loaded into 66-7958 in Hawaii and unloaded in Houston.)
7-27 | AR: LRL | 0300
(note: LRL is the Lunar Receiving Laboratory, building 37 at Johnson Space Center in Houston.)
A notation beneath this itinerary reads:
Government meals and quarters furnished for all the above dates.

Aldrin also reported 100 miles of “official vicinity travel” at Cape Kennedy for the nine days between his arrival and departure, for which he was reimbursed $10. Another note reads
POV authorized for official vicinity travel at Cape Kennedy, Fla. in leiu [sic] of rental car.
I can’t find any information about what POV this is; he left his personal vehicle in Houston when he flew on a government plane to Florida, so perhaps he owned two cars?

There are three handwritten notes beneath that which I cannot read but claim $8.00 and $19.25, as well as $4.50 of charges that he subtracts from the total; these three are listed in the “subsistence” column. The grand total claimed on this voucher are $33.31 ($279.17 in 2024 dollars), and it was approved by someone named “C.W. Bird.”

I find it so fantastic that a man who went to the moon still had to deal with paperwork once he returned. What a gem was 1960s NASA. A delightful interaction between the sublime moon and the mundane Earth.

Paintings in this post are from a set of NASA images produced before the launch and originally shared in a PopSci article. Here’s some more (click each to enlarge):

Linkblog | Cory Doctorow: How I got scammed

from the mothers-maiden-name desk

Cory Doctorow regales us with his story of being phished, being scammed, being almost scammed, and being almost phished again, and uses his $8,000 fleecing as an opportunity to teach us about swiss cheese security, when everything lines up perfectly for a scammer to get through.

It makes me think about a Hollywood heist film, where George Clooney waits patiently for the exact right amount of money to be in the vault, for the people who are responsible for its protection to be distracted or harried or frustrated in a specific way, for the business interests of the target to be specifically aligned away from what he wants to go after; so that when he makes his move he only has to actually put his people in a particular place and let them go through the holes that have already opened up.

Good reminders for individuals and for companies who rely on strong security to maintain their business or reputation.