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Artificial Intelligence Isn’t Just Technology — It’s Also a Religion

March 13, 2016

I spend a lot of time covering advances in artificial intelligence.

It's one of the big stories of our time,— so much so that the White House has said it will remake our society.

On Wednesday, I attended an Intelligence Squared debate at Manhattan's 92nd Street Y that made me see artificial intelligence in a whole new way.

Don’t Trust People Who Worship Technology

March 10, 2016

Jaron Lanier and Andrew Keen make powerful arguments against tech utopianism.

A debate on artificial intelligence took place at the 92nd St Y on Wednesday night, and it took on real sweep that went beyond the subject of AI. This wasn’t just because the victory of a Google bot over a South Korean champion at the ancient game of Go has made the matter of AI especially pressing. Wednesday’s discussion highlighted some of the best – and worst – ways we think about technology. The whole debate, called “Don’t Trust the Promise of Artificial Intelligence,” is worth watching.

The best came from Jaron Lanier, who has an important place in these conversations. One of the key ways cyber-utopians shut down anyone who express doubts about technology is to brand them as a “Luddite,” but this computer scientist who helped develop virtual reality and recently sold a company to Google is hard to tar that way. On Wednesday night, he gave a technical description of how AI worked and didn’t, and he concluded with one of the sharpest things anyone has said about our assumptions about the digital world.

How to Turn NPR Fans Into Artificial Intelligence Cynics

March 10, 2016

At a debate Wednesday night co-hosted by Intelligence Squared US and the 92 Street Y in New York City, a largely white, middle-aged audience was easily convinced that the supposed bright future of artificial intelligence is perhaps not all that it’s cracked up to be.

The nonprofit debate series, syndicated as a podcast on NPR, works something like this: Before the debate begins, the audience votes in favor of the motion, against the motion, or as undecided. Last night’s motion, “Don’t Trust The Promises of Artificial Intelligence,” was affirmed by 30 percent of the audience and negated by 41 percent at the start of the debate. A whopping 29 percent were undecided, indicating they knew little about the topic beforehand. Votes weren’t just cast by the live audience, but also by viewers online.

Is Artificial Intelligence Being Oversold?

March 10, 2016

A debate in New York tries to settle the question.

After taking a 2-0 lead in its five-game match with Lee Sedol on Thursday, Google-DeepMind’s AlphaGo artificial intelligence program seems likely to claim victory within the next few days. This will no doubt resurface the many questions people have about AI’s future and whether humans are inching towards Matrix-like enslavement. Fortunately, last night’s "Don’t Trust the Promise of Artificial Intelligence" Intelligence Squared U.S. debate in New York City addressed a lot of these questions and concerns.

Watch Leading Thinkers Debate the Risks and Rewards of AI

March 09, 2016

Jaron Lanier and Martine Rothblatt address our darkest AI fears.

The advent of artificial intelligence is as dreaded as it is lauded. Proponents believe it's a technological advancement that will augment humans in unprecedented ways -- think immortality and super-intelligence. But the critics often point out the dangerous repercussions of this revolution -- autonomous weapon systems and self aware bots. Should we brace ourselves for a robotic apocalypse? Is that idea based on science fiction or reality? Does the fear of AI slow down the progress of a technology that could amplify human existence? Tune in for a riveting debate -- "Don't trust the promise of artificial intelligence."

A Transgender, Biotech-Running Cybercreator Debates Artificial Intelligence

March 07, 2016

The ever-fascinating Martine Rothblatt is a colorful figure on the Washington scene — lawyer, author, founder of Sirius XM, founder and chief executive of United Therapeutics, co-creator of a head-only robot modeled on her wife of 30-plus years (they were married before Rothblatt’s sex reassignment surgery), pilot, piano player . . . .

[She invented Sirius XM, a biotech and a religion. For starters.]

Rothblatt, whose most recent book is “Virtually Human: The Promise — and the Peril — of Digital Immortality,” will take the stage at New York’s 92nd Street Y on behalf of one of her passions: artificial intelligence.

She will be one of four experts on two teams debating whether pursuit of superintelligence and autonomous machines may result in dangerous unintended consequences, or whether fears of that outcome will prevent technological progress. It’s the latest in the series of fast-paced, provocative debates put on by the public affairs program IQ², or Intelligence Squared.

News Formats Change, But the Content Stays the Same

June 02, 2015

I recently attended an Intelligence Squared debate over whether “smart technology is making us dumb.” Those who argued that it was said we’re too distracted by our phones to think long and hard about serious issues, and also because something something selfies. But the Pew study finds that between the selfies, Millennials are actually reading more serious news that challenges their point of view. Millennials report seeing more political news posts on Facebook than older generations, and they're more likely to report seeing posts that do not support their views. Only 18 percent of Millennials say they always or most of the time see posts that support their politics.

Is Smart Technology Making Us Dumb? Take Our Poll.

June 01, 2015

I attended a recent Intelligence Squared debate at the Kaufman Center in New York City on this question: Does smart technology make us dumb?

Two sets of panelists argued pro and con in front of a sold-out crowd. The audience was an integral part of the evening because it voted on who won the debate. After listening to both sides, how would you vote? Take our poll at the end of this story to tell us.

The Fatal Conceit of the “Right to be Forgotten”

March 17, 2015

Intelligence Squared hosted a lively debate last week over the so-called “Right to be Forgotten” embraced by European courts—which, as tech executive Andrew McLaughlin aptly noted, would be more honestly described as a “right to force others to forget.” A primary consequence of this “right” thus far has been that citizens are entitled to demand that search engines like Google censor the results that are returned for a search on the person’s name, provided those results are “inadequate, irrelevant, or no longer relevant.” In other words, if you’re unhappy that an unflattering item—such as a news story—shows up as a prominent result for your name, you can declare it “irrelevant” even if entirely truthful and ask Google to stop showing it as a result for such searches, with ultimate recourse to the courts if the company refuses. Within two months of the ruling establishing the “right,” the company received more than 70,000 such requests.

The Right to Be Forgotten from Google? Forget It, Says U.S. Crowd

March 12, 2015

The University of Oklahoma expelled two fraternity members this week after video of them leading a racist chant went viral. Now, a Google search of the young men’s names shows the incident right at the top of the results.

But should this still be the case in 30 years? Should future employers and girlfriends be able to use Google to easily discover the video? Or would it be better for the U.S. to create a law to allow such men, one day in the future, to cloak their youthful misdeeds?

On Wednesday night at the Kaufman Center in New York City, the Oklahoma frat brothers were discussed as part of a larger debate over whether it’s time for the U.S. to adopt a “right to be forgotten” law to help people hide their past.

Experts Debate Whether 'Right to Be Forgotten' Should Be Adopted in the U.S.

March 12, 2015

The “right to be forgotten” should be adopted in the U.S. because Americans deserve the ability to exercise control over their personal data. Then again, the right to be forgotten could be seen as a form of censorship that aims to conceal past news. At least that's what four privacy and technology experts debated Wednesday night.

The experts considered whether the ruling should be (hypothetically) implemented in the U.S. Organized by Intelligence Squared, a live New York City audience served as the barometer for which side won the debate. Before any words were exchanged, 36 percent believed the U.S. should adopt the ruling; 26 percent were against it, and 38 percent were undecided.

Amazon and Its Friends

January 26, 2015

During the 2012 campaign, Mitt Romney made an off-the-cuff comment about how “corporations are people.” He was mocked but perhaps was ahead of his time. A few years later, corporations are not only people but our friends.

Forget about same-day delivery of diapers or reconnecting with your high school girlfriend or publishing those novels without the aid of an editor or bookstore. The greatest achievement of Silicon Valley has been the marketing of Silicon Valley. Google, Apple, Facebook — they all assert they exist for your benefit, their only goal to amuse and enlighten and help you. To be, in short, your best buddy.

The tech world’s devotion to its customers was put to a vote this month in Manhattan, at one of the Intelligence Squared series of debates. The evening’s topic: “Amazon is the reader’s friend.”

For those nostalgic for last year’s clash between Amazon and Hachette, the debate — expertly moderated by the ABC news correspondent John Donvan — replayed the brawl. The self-published novelist Joe Konrath and the Vox editor Matthew Yglesias argued in favor of the proposition; the novelist Scott Turow and the former New Republic editor Franklin Foer argued against.

Is Amazon a Hero or Monster?

January 16, 2015

A passionate New York debate interrogates Amazon’s dominance in the book market—is it delivering well-priced books efficiently, or a greedy, rapacious behemoth?

What is the true nature of Amazon.com—the online retailing colossus that, like a massive corporate python, has swallowed up the book industry virtually whole?

In terms of cognitive dissonance, it would be difficult to match Thursday night’s Intelligence Squared debate on the proposition, “Amazon Is The Reader’s Friend.”

Is Amazon the Reader’s Friend? – Liveblog

January 15, 2015

I took a wrong turn on the subway and reached Brooklyn before I realized I was a long way from the Kaufman Center in Manhattan. I arrived late at the Intelligence Squared debate on the resolution “Amazon is the Reader’s Friend.”

We are now into questions from the audience. It’s been a fantastic discussion, organized in classic debate style with some innovations introduced by the steady, savvy moderator, John Donvan.

Arguing for the resolution are author Joe Konrath and journalist Matthew Yglesias. Arguing against are author Scott Turow and Franklin Foer, former editor of The New Republic. Here’s what’s happening…

Does The Mass Collection Of Phone Records Violate The Fourth Amendment?

October 10, 2014

Some very smart people try to make the case that gobbling up phone data on all of us isn’t really a constitutional case. Let’s see if they convince you…

Intelligence Squared held a debate on exactly this topic. If you’ve never checked out Intelligence Squared, I highly recommend it. Imagine a televised argument, except instead of sound bytes spewed by yelling heads, accomplished experts calmly and rationally hash out the issues with enough time to guarantee that nuance isn’t sacrificed to make time for another commercial.

VIDEO: Yes, Mass Collection of U.S. Phone Records Violates the Constitution

October 08, 2014

A resounding win! A Philadelphia audience sided squarely with team civil liberties in a debate hosted yesterday by Intelligence Squared. Arguing for the motion, "Mass Collection of U.S. Phone Records Violates the Constitution," were ACLU staff attorney Alex Abdo and Elizabeth Wydra, chief counsel of the Constitutional Accountability Center. They faced off against John Yoo, a former Justice Department attorney known for authoring the Bush-era torture memos, and Stewart Baker, former NSA general counsel.

BULK PHONE RECORDS COLLECTION VOTED DOWN IN OXFORD-STYLE DEBATE

October 08, 2014

A strong majority of audience members thought mass collection of U.S. phone records violates the constitution’s Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure following an Oxford-style debate on the topic last night sponsored by Intelligence Squared, which is affiliated with NPR. The motion — “mass collection of U.S. phone records violates the Fourth Amendment” — polled at 46 percent among audience members before the debate and at 66 percent afterward. Arguing in favor of the motion were ACLU staff attorney Alex Abdo and Elizabeth Wydra, chief counsel for the Constitutional Accountability Center. Opposing it were former NSA general counsel Stewart Baker and John Yoo, a former Justice Department lawyer best known for writing the Bush Administration memo justifying enhanced interrogation of terror detainees that critics have dubbed torture. Before the debate, 17 percent of audience members opposed the motion and 37 percent were undecided. After the debate, 28 percent opposed it and 6 percent were undecided.

This week on MOOCs, ep. 6

May 07, 2014

Is it really a question of bricks vs clicks? In a debate at Columbia University, the question whether it would be bricks or clicks — in other words campus vs MOOCs — in the future of higher education, the clicks won. Now, in all fairness, I believe that the future of (higher) education lies in combining both (and add in other elements) to get the best outcomes for students, but nevertheless the debate, as reported on in the New Yorker, is an interesting one.

Professor Makes Sure There’s No Disconnect in Her Online Program

May 05, 2014

Beyond issues of retaining students, critics also raise concerns about whether online education provides effective ways to learn and whether it affords students the personalized attention they deserve. Those issues were debated earlier this month at an Intelligence Squared U.S. Debates event, titled “More Clicks, Fewer Bricks: The Lecture Hall Is Obsolete,” at Columbia University.

How to Get a Campus Feeling in a MOOC

April 25, 2014

You can never recreate or replace the accelerated learning effect of being able to interact with your teacher and fellow students in person - in physical proximity. At least, this is an argument that is often used by those who are not big fans of MOOCs (massive open online courses). The last time I saw it was in an article about the Intelligence Squared debate at Columbia University on the question: 'bricks or clicks?' But, in our connected world, does that really hold up?

Are College Campuses Obsolete?

April 22, 2014

On one recent night, the Intelligence Squared U.S. debate series put forth a motion on Columbia University’s campus: “More Clicks, Fewer Bricks: The Lecture Hall Is Obsolete.” This is heavily contested territory, as both the setting and the style of the debate reflected. Columbia itself is the owner of quite a few nice-looking bricks, but, only last month, the university signalled its intention to start producing online courses. The Intelligence Squared events are inspired by traditional Oxford debates, decided by the votes of the audience, but they’re judged electronically. The points and counterpoints were streamed and tweeted live, but in tone the evening still evoked the charm of a winsome classroom professor: percussive jazz-fusion tracks piped in before, friendly anecdotes during, and a reception, in lieu of office hours, after.

Is It Time To Dismantle the Lecture Hall?

April 03, 2014

As higher education evolves, has the lecture hall model become obsolete? In a debate hosted by Intelligence Squared on the campus of Columbia University, two teams of academic experts squared off to settle that question.

Intelligence Squared U.S. Audience Agrees that “When It Comes to Politics, the Internet Is Closing Our Minds”

April 18, 2012

Last night, Intelligence Squared U.S. continued its spring 2012 season with a victory for the motion “When it Comes to Politics, The Internet is Closing Our Minds.” In the final tally, Eli Pariser and Siva Vaidhyanathan won the Oxford-style debate by convincing 25% of the audience to change their minds and oppose the motion.

The Web Is Turning Us Into Narrow-Minded Drones

April 18, 2012

If you live in Manhattan and get hungry for pizza, you’ll probably want your Google search for “pizza” to return local results. In fact, the more the search engine knows about your location and preferences, the better off you are. But does the same hold true for politics? Should Internet companies aim to serve you the news stories that best suit your taste? Think of Tuesday’s Slate/Intelligence Squared live debate in New York as a contest between pizza and politics.

Worth Watching: Pariser, Vaidhyanathan, Morozov and Weisberg On Whether the Internet Is Closing Our Minds

April 17, 2012

They say that anyone who knows what’s good for him will avoid arguing on the Internet. But what of arguing about the Internet? That’s what four net-centric thinkers — MoveOn.org board president Eli Pariser, “Googlization of Everything” author Siva Vaidhyanathan, Slate’s Jacob Weisberg and “Net Delusion” author Evgeny Morozov — did Tuesday at an Oxford-style debate organized by Intelligence Squared U.S. and held here in New York.

Defining and Debating Cyber Warfare

April 15, 2012

Cyber warfare is a hot topic in the security industry, but what does this term actually mean? At what point does a cyber conflict become a cyber war? Are cyber threats, cyber attacks and cyber espionage acts of cyber war? Many of these questions need to be discussed – and that discussion is about to take place.

Does the Internet Narrow Our Political Horizons?

April 09, 2012

Does an Internet that cloisters us in ideological cocoons hurt our political life? Or are the Web’s skeptics just the latest in a long line of alarmists who don’t understand how technology is transforming civic discourse for the better? Optimists cheer the way social media and blogs have broadened our horizons beyond a handful of news networks. They insist that personalization enriches (but does not replace) a responsible media diet and that chance still rules the Web. On April 17, four writers and cyber-philosophers will cross swords over these issues at the next Slate/Intelligence Squared U.S. live debate.

Intelligence Squared, Cyber Warfare and Entertainment Extravaganzas

June 16, 2010

I attended the Intelligence Squared debate on Cyber Warfare on June 8, in Washington, DC. Those of you who read my blogs regularly know that I am an avid podcast listener (I have a one-hour commute each way to work). One of the podcasts in my regular rotation is the Intelligence Squared debates.

The "Cyber War Threat" Debate

June 10, 2010

I mentioned back in April that I was going to be out of DC on June 8 -- but that if I had been around, I would have been sure to attend the Intelligence Squared debate at the Newseum on the motion that "The Cyber War Threat Has Been Grossly Exaggerated." Well, the results are in, and the "against the motion" side won big.

In Debate, Audience Finds that the Cyberwar Threat is Not Exaggerated

June 09, 2010

Resolved: The cyberwar threat has been grossly exaggerated. True or false?
That was the question put to four top security experts last night in a public debate at the Newseum here in the nation's capitol. The debate, which was organized by the Intelligence Squared U.S. Foundation and sponsored by Neustar, was designed to cut through the hype surrounding cyberwar and help determine how serious the threat might be.