Hunter, Mitch, and life's a...scene from Los Alamos
If we had A.I. before WWII, the government would instantly classify all of it, and assemble our best scientists at Los Alamos to make Skynet real.
I was going to write a nerdy thing on the definition of the “common good,” which I think will still happen—such things have to slow cook—but today I’m doing a rapid-fire on a few threads of life in America.
I used to live down the street from the 509th Bomber Wing; it was the only U.S. Air Force element to ever have fulfilled the mission of Strategic Air Command, before there was a Strategic Air Command. Over the years, there’s been no shortage of retconning the story of how America built and used atomic weapons. To me, the seminal work for normal people is Richard Rhodes’ “The Making of the Atomic Bomb” and its sequel, “Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb.”
There’s lots in the Rhodes’ first book dealing with J. Robert Oppenheimer and his, let’s say, complicated, relationship with communism, love, and The Bomb. But the main thrust of the story arc is that had America not made the bomb, the world would likely not have had one for quite some time. See, the Russians got the bomb from us, courtesy of the Rosenbergs and others. By the time Fat Man was tested in the New Mexico desert, Stalin already knew how it was made; at Potsdam, the Soviet leader was less surprised, and better briefed, on the successful test than President Truman.
If America had never made the bomb, then perhaps the world would have been better off. But at the time, the men and women who made it didn’t know that—they might have suspected it, but such doubts don’t surface much during war with an implacable foe. For example, American armed forces are still using the nearly half million Purple Heart medals left in inventory after World War II, which were produced to handle the casualties from an invasion of the Japanese home islands. How would the world have looked with a Japan completely devastated, beyond anything the starving Germans experienced, hell-scape littered with the bodies of American soldiers, and dead Japanese civilians who threw themselves at the invaders with sticks, stones and anything else they had?
We look back, conveniently from our perch today, with our worries about Russia, secure in our strong alliance with both Germany and Japan (don’t believe headlines boasting a “weak” or “troubled” friendship; they’re blips). If America had never made the bomb, we really have no idea how the world would look today, or who would be first to make such a weapon, or how much war the world would endure without the threat of nuclear annihilation hanging over it. Retconning can’t answer those questions.
And now we face a similar question on the role of A.I., which Alexander Karp, the CEO of Palantir Technologies, called “our Oppenheimer moment” in a New York Times guest essay. Palantir has contracts with the Defense Department to help create A.I. battlefield tech. Ignoring the military applications of A.I., to Karp, is like not building the bomb in 1945. Somebody will do it, eventually, and if not us, then it’s likely to be our enemy. There’s some truth to that, but the moral landscape of that truth is a minefield.
I believe if we were in a war today like WWII, or if the promise of A.I. tech existed in the late 1930s, the government would react the same way with A.I. as it did with nuclear technology. All public research into the topic would become instantly classified, and development of the weaponized A.I. bomb would become a giant government project, led by the best scientists and engineers we could assemble. How would the world look 80 years later? I don’t know, but Frank Herbert’s “Dune” series might be a good place to begin looking.
A.I.’s greatest threat, to me, is if it gets implemented on quantum computing platforms, and therefore able to defeat every known cipher system in the world like it was child’s play. Such an A.I. could be trained on data that nobody should be looking at, and would quickly “know” too much. Forget self-awareness; the moral implications of what humans would ask the A.I. to do is unthinkably scary to me.
“In March, one commentator published an essay in Time magazine arguing that “if somebody builds a too-powerful A.I., under present conditions,” he expects “that every single member of the human species and all biological life on Earth dies shortly thereafter.”
That may be hyperbole, but it’s only in degree that it differs from a world where all members of the human species might wish for death rather than suffer under the tyranny of such a life.
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Under that umbrella of gloom and the pall of super-weapons, let me shift to more instant matters. In a press statement Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell froze, with a pained look on his face. It is difficult to watch, but here it is.
A short time after, McConnell returned to the podium and said “I’m fine.” The Hill reported he later said President Joe Biden called to check on him.
“The president called to check on me. I told him I got sandbagged,” McConnell said, referring to Biden’s trip and fall over a sandbag at the U.S. Air Force Academy commencement last month.
A spokesperson for the senator said McConnell was “lightheaded.” It can happen, and it’s a reminder of how 81-year-olds in our aging federal government can sometimes experience “senior moments.” We should not be so quick with cruel remarks about Biden’s age, and the accommodations his staff makes to help him. There’s no requirement that the President of the United States must climb all the stairs to Air Force One, when there’s a built-in air-stair that serves its purpose. Yes, projecting strength is important, but nobody was fooled by Trump’s salute on the White House balcony while he visibly gasped for air after his bout with COVID-19.
Being real about aging leaders is important. (And that means to Democrats as well as Republicans, dealing with Speaker Nancy Pelosi or the aged Sen. Dianne Feinstein.) If they can do the job with accommodations, then let them do the job. FDR had a lot of accommodations; JFK as well. Ronald Reagan appeared strong, but he was also old, and at the end of his term, signs of Alzheimers became evident. He still managed to get through, and defeated the Soviet Union without using the bomb.
Sticking with the Bidens here, son Hunter’s plea deal fell apart, when Judge Maryellen Noreika questioned the scope of the government’s offer. Hunter pleaded not guilty, and attorneys from both sides will now work on a new plea deal, which will likely not alter the basic agreement, giving the president’s son a light sentence in exchange for a guilty plea on misdemeanor charges. The judge gave them 14 days to brief her and work something out.
Hunter is a bad egg, for sure. And there’s this halo of corruption surrounding him and his family, so those who have a bias to believe that the Bidens are a “crime family” will turn every knob to eleven on the corruption scale for every story. What they want to accomplish is beyond me, honestly, because an impeachment of Joe Biden would certainly lead to no conviction in the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats. And if he did, say, resign (because that’s what presidents who are facing impeachment for corruption should do), we’d have Kamala Harris running the executive branch of the federal government.
To me, keeping Biden, age, gaffes, clueless bewilderment, his cocaine-infested West Wing and bad egg son is a better choice for the nation. But maybe one day, we won’t have to make such decisions, because our A.I. overlords will make them for us—that is if they don’t go all Skynet on us and wipe us out with the bombs we made to never be used.