Adonis Diaries

Archive for the ‘Safety’ Category

Irradiated Iraq: The Nuclear Nightmare We Left Behind

When the United States revealed in January that it is testing a more nimble, more precise version of its B61 atom bomb, some were immediately alarmed.

General James Cartwright, a former strategist for President Obama, warned that “going smaller” could make nuclear weapons “more thinkable” and “more usable.”

However, what is little known is that for the past 25 years, the United States and its allies have routinely used radioactive weapons in battle, in the form of warheads and explosives made with depleted, undepleted, or slightly enriched uranium.

While the Department of Defense (DOD) calls these weapons “conventional” (non-nuclear), they are radioactive and chemically toxic.

In Iraq, where the United States and its partners waged two wars, toxic waste covers the country and poisons the people. U.S. veterans are also sick and dying.

Scott Ritter, a former Marine Corps officer in Iraq and United Nations weapons inspector, told me, “The irony is we invaded Iraq in 2003 to destroy its non-existent WMD [weapons of mass destruction]. To do it, we fired these new weapons, causing radioactive casualties.”

The weapons were first used in 1991 during Desert Storm, when the U.S. military fired guided bombs and missiles containing depleted uranium (DU), a waste product from nuclear reactors. The Department of Defense (DOD) particularly prized them because, with dramatic density, speed, and heat, they blasted through tanks and bunkers.

Within one or two years, grotesque birth defects spiraled—such as babies with two heads. Or missing eyes, hands, and legs. Or stomachs and brains inside out.

Keith Baverstock, who headed the radiological section of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Center of Environment and Health in the 1990s, explained why:

When uranium weapons explode, their massive blasts produce gray or black clouds of uranium oxide dust particles. These float for miles, people breathe them, and the dust lodges in their lungs. From there, they seep into the lymph system and blood, flow throughout the body, and bind to the genes and chromosomes, causing them to mutate.

First, they trigger birth defects. Within five or more years, cancer. Organs, often the kidneys, fail.

At one Basra hospital, leukemia cases in children up to age 14 doubled from 1992 to 1999, says Amy Hagopian, a University of Washington School of Public Health professor. Birth defects also surged, from 37 in 1990 to 254 in 2001, according to a 2005 article in Environmental Health.

Leukemia—cancer of the blood—develops quickly. Chris Busby, a British chemical physicist, explains: “Blood cells are the most easily damaged by radiation and duplicate rapidly. We’ve known this since Hiroshima.”

Dai Williams, an independent weapons researcher in Britain, says the dust emits alpha radiation—20 times more damaging than the gamma radiation from nuclear weapons. The military insists the dust is harmless because it can’t penetrate the skin. They ignore that it can be inhaled.

Fast forward to 2003. When the United States re-invaded Iraq, it launched bunker-busting guided bombs, cruise missiles, and TOW anti-tank missiles. It also fired new thermobaric warheads—much stronger explosives with stunningly large blasts. Many of these, says Ritter, contained some type of uranium, whether depleted, undepleted, or slightly enriched.

Williams says thermobaric weapons explode at extremely high temperatures and “the only material that can do that is uranium.” He adds that while today’s nuclear weapons are nominally subject to international regulations, no existing arms protocol addresses uranium in a non-nuclear context.

While the U.S. government has cleaned up some contaminated sites at home—such as a former uranium munitions plant in Concord, Mass.—it has yet to acknowledge the mess in Iraq.

“Iraq is one large hazardous waste site,” Ritter says. “If it was the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency would declare it a Superfund site and order it be cleaned.”

Left behind in Fallujah

Fallujah (pop. 300,000) is Iraq’s most contaminated city. The U.S. military attacked it twice in 2004, and in the November siege, troops fired thermobaric weapons, including a shoulder-launched missile called the SMAW-NE. (NE means “novel explosive.”)

Ross Caputi was there with the U.S. 1st Battalion 8th Marines. He told me, “We used the SMAW-NE and guys raved about how you could fire just one round and clear a building.” Concrete bunkers and buildings were instantly incinerated and collapsed. The DOD was not disappointed.

Cancers in Fallujah catapulted from 40 cases among 100,000 people in 1991 to at least 1,600 by 2005.

In a 2010 International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health article, Busby and two colleagues, Malak Hamden and Entesar Ariabi, reported a 38-fold increase in leukemia, a 10-fold increase in breast cancer, and infant mortality rates eight times higher than in neighboring Kuwait.

Busby sampled the hair of Fallujah women with deformed babies and found slightly enriched uranium. He found the same thing in the soil. “The only possible source was the weapons,” he states.

These numbers are probably low. “Iraqi women whose children have birth defects feel stigmatized and often don’t report them,” says Mozhgan Savabieasfahani, a Michigan-based environmental toxicologist who won the 2015 Rachel Carson Award.

Besides the cancers and birth defects, an Irish pathologist (who asked for anonymity) said an unusually high number of children have cerebral palsy (CP) near the city of Hawija.

“I was skeptical when Iraqi doctors told me, but I examined 30 and saw it was classic CP. I don’t know what caused this, but the increase is almost certainly war-related.”

It is often argued that uranium occurs in nature, so it’s impossible to link soil and other samples to the weapons. But, Ritter told me that when experts examine a site, they take samples, study them in a special lab, and can easily tell the difference between uranium that is natural and that which was chemically processed.

“The idea that you can’t link soil samples to weapons because of the presence of natural uranium is simply ludicrous. It’s done all the time by experts in the International Atomic Energy Agency and within the nuclear programs of all major nuclear powers,” Ritter says.

Burn pits and toxic clouds

In addition to the weapons’ lethal dust, Iraqis and coalition troops were exposed to poisonous smoke from huge open burn pits, some stretching 10 acres. From 2003 to 2011, U.S. military bases burned waste in the pits around the clock—spewing toxic clouds for miles.

Two were near Fallujah. Caputi says,“We dumped everything there. Our plastic bottles, tires, human waste, and batteries.”

Rubber, oil, solvents, unexploded weapons, and even medical waste were also tossed into the pits.

As a 2008 Army Times article noted, Balad Air Base burned around 90,000 plastic bottles a day.

When plastic burns, it gives off dioxin—the key ingredient in Agent Orange, which caused malformations and cancer in Vietnam. Burn pits also produce hydrogen cyanide gas, Ritter says, which U.S. prisons used in their execution chambers from the mid-1920s until 2010, and which Nazis used at the Auschwitz and Majdanek concentration camps. Moreover, pits burning uranium-tinged debris produce uranium oxide dust.

When U.S. General Accountability Office (GAO) inspectors visited bases in 2010, they found much to criticize. Contractors running the pits—U.S. companies such as KBR and Halliburton—didn’t collect data on what they burned. (KBR said it wasn’t in their contract.) Few separated out toxic materials. Most burned plastics, although banned by regulations.

The GAO wrote that the fumes could irritate the eyes and lungs, damage the liver, kidneys, and central nervous system, and cause cancer, depending on how much is inhaled and for how long.

Troops breathed them 24/7 during their tours, which were usually one year. Iraqis breathed them for eight years.

The now-closed Balad Air Base burned up to 200 tons of waste a day, and many U.S. troops stationed there now have diseases that mirror the diseases suffered by the Iraqis. Some have already died from brain and lung cancers, or leukemia, says Rosie Torres, who started burnpits360.org, when her husband, an Army captain, returned in 2008 with severe breathing problems.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) x-rayed Captain LeRoy Torres’s lungs and diagnosed a disease of “unknown etiology.” When more veterans presented similar symptoms, the DOD asked Dr. Robert Miller, Vanderbilt’s Chief of Pulmonary Diseases, to study them. Dr. Miller told me,

“We biopsied 200 veterans’ lungs and found they had constrictive bronchiolitis, a very debilitating disease. The DOD didn’t like that we biopsied them and that we found the disease was caused by what they were exposed to—which included the burn pits. After that, it didn’t send us more veterans to evaluate.”

Even as evidence mounts, the DOD and VA steadfastly deny the health effects of the weapons and pits. The Defense Health Agency website states, “No human cancer of any type has been seen as a result of exposure to either natural or depleted uranium.”

Further, in a 2011 DOD report, Exposure to Toxins Produced by Burn Pits, the VA adds: “The effects from burn pits are only temporary and the negative health effects dissipate once a soldier is removed from the source.” In 2014, the VA website assured veterans that “So far, no health problems have been found in veterans exposed to DU.”

While the military admits it used DU in Iraq from 2003 to 2011, it has downplayed the extent. U.S. Marine Corps Captain Dominic Pitrone told The Washington Spectator, “The only weapons with DU in the USMC inventory were 120mm tank rounds.” As for the new SMAW-NE warhead, he said it “does not contain uranium.”

But Ritter says these claims are disingenuous.

Though other DU munitions, such as aerial bombs and 25mm cannon rounds, may not have been in the USMC inventory, they were still “available to and used by USMC units in Iraq.”

And while the USMC may not label the SMAW-NE and thermobaric Hellfire missile as uranium weapons, Ritter says that “this doesn’t resolve whether the shaped-charge warheads [inside them] make use of uranium-enhanced liners.”

U.S. coalition partners—such as Britain, which also used uranium weapons—echo the denials. So too do the WHO and the Iraq Ministry of Health, which concluded in 2012 that Iraq had fewer birth defects and cancers than developed countries.

But Hagopian says the ministry surveyed households instead of using hospital records. Finding this unscientific, a 2013 Lancet article called for a new study. Last November, the American Public Health Association asked the military to ban burn pits and fund research on their health effects. It also asked the WHO to rethink its conclusion.

Researchers tell of attempts by authorities to quash investigations.

In 1991, for example, the United States tried to keep the WHO from “surveying areas in southern Iraq where depleted uranium had been used and caused serious health and environmental dangers,” Hans von Sponeck, a former U.N. official, told the Guardian.

Karol Sikora, a British oncologist who headed WHO’s cancer program in the 1990s, told me his supervisor (who focuses on non-communicable diseases) warned him that they shouldn’t speak publicly about the cancers and birth defects “because this would offend member states.”

Similarly, Baverstock says, “I was on a WHO editorial committee and I warned about the uranium weapons’ geno-toxicity effect on DNA. My comments were rejected—probably because the WHO monograph didn’t include this.”

Those who persist fare badly.

Horst Gunther, a German physician, went to Iraq to study the spiking diseases. He saw children play with DU shells on Basra’s battlefield, took one to Germany to study, and found it was extremely radioactive. He told German authorities and was arrested for possessing it.

In 2003, Chief Justice Y.K.J. Yeung Sik Yuen of Mauritius, a delegate to the U.N. Sub-Commission on Human Rights, wrote of “the cavalier disregard, if not deception, on the part of the developers and users of these weapons regarding their effects.” After he refused to reverse his position that DU weapons are illegal and violate the Geneva Convention, the U.S. and Britain campaigned against his reelection to the subcommission. He lost.

Hagopian says researchers can’t study the uranium weapons’ effects because “the U.S. won’t fund the work.”

Why can’t the DOD, VA, Iraq government, and WHO come clean?

Ritter says, “The DOD doesn’t want the public to know about the toxic dust, because of the liability. As for Iraq, it will agree with the U.S. as long as it depends on the U.S. for financial and military support. As for the WHO, the U.S. contributes more to U.N. agencies and the WHO than any other country.”

Williams adds that there’s growing international concern about uranium weapons, since they’re radioactive. As early as 1991, Army Lt. Col. Ziehm warned in a memo that because DU weapons “may become politically unacceptable,” after-action reports must “keep this sensitive issue at mind.” In other words, don’t tell.

Media coverage of uranium weapons and the spiraling sickness has been meager. Malak Hamden said when she and colleagues published the 2010 Fallujah study, “CNN said something, but no newspapers touched the story.” A BBC reporter told Williams the public doesn’t want to know about uranium weapons.

In the meantime, the United States continues to build them. Williams notes that U.S. Patent Office records show Lockheed Martin and Raytheon hold patents for enhanced bombs and cruise missile warheads that include uranium options.

Today, with the U.S., Britain, France, Saudi Arabia, and Russia bombing Syria, and with the Saudis bombing and the U.S. firing drones into Yemen—with some of the same kinds of weapons unleashed in Iraq—it is likely that the people living there, along with fleeing refugees, will suffer just as the Iraqis and veterans have.

As Busby notes, uranium oxide dust is like a bomb that keeps going off. “People’s genes are damaged for generations. Scientists found this in 22 generations of mice, after Chernobyl. The only way mutated genes disappear is when carriers don’t have children.”

Barbara Koeppel is a Washington D.C.-based investigative reporter.

Performance criteria? Are we designing for mankind?

What could be the Human Factors performance criteria?

Note: Re-edit (Human Factors in Engineering, Article #38, written in March 31, 2006)

Performance” is the magic answer offered by university students to questions like “What is the purpose of this course, of this method, of this technique, or of this design?”

Performance is what summarizes all the conscious learning in the knowledge bag, for lack of meaningful full sentences available in the language to express clear purposes.

It takes a couple of months to wean the students from the catch word “performance” and encourage them to try thinking harder for specificity.

There is a hierarchy for this abstract notion of “performance”.

The next level of abstraction is to answer: “What kind of performance?“.

The third level should answer: “How these various performances criteria correlate?  Can we sort them out between basic performances and redundant performance criteria?”.

The fourth level is: “How much for each basic performance criterionCan we measure them accurately and objectively?”

It seems that every discipline has created for itself a set of performance criteria and they are coined in stone, so that an insertion of another element into that set, is like a paradigm shift in its field of science.

If you prompt a business or engineering university student to expand on the meaning of “performance”, when supported by a specific example, it might dawn on him to spell out another piece of jewels such as: “max profit”, “minimize cost”, “improve quality”, “increase production”, “save time”, or “increase market share”.

In order to reach a finer level of specificity we need to define functionally.

For example, what “max profit” means?  A string of monosyllables rains from everywhere such as: “increase price”, “cut expenditure”, “sell more”, and again “improve quality”, “save time”, or “increase market share”. 

If we agree that profit is a function of market share, price, expenditure, added values of products, and marketing services then we can understand what could be the basic criteria and which criteria dependent on the basic ones.

How can a business improve performance?

How can it make profit or cut costs? 

Should the firm layoff redundant employees, force early retirement, dip in insurance funds, contract out product parts and administrative processes, eliminate training programs, scrap off the library or continuing learning facilities,…

Or streamline the design process, reduce advertising money, abridge break times in duration or frequency, cut overhead expenses such as control lighting and comfort of the working environment, stop investing in new facilities…

Or firing skilled workers, settling consumer plaintiffs out of court, searching for tax loopholes, or engineering financial statements?

How can a business increase its market share? How can it survive competitors and continually flourish?

How can a firm improve products for the quality minded engineers?

Should it invest on the latest technological advancements in equipment, machines, and application software, or should it select the best mind among the graduates…

Or should it establish a continuing education program with adequate learning facilities, or should it encourage its engineers to experiment and submit research papers, or should it invest on market research to know the characteristics of its customers…

Or should it built in safety in the design process, or perform an extensive analysis of the foreseeable misuses of its products or services, the type of errors generated in the functioning and operation of its products and their corresponding risks on health of the users, or manage properly employees’ turnover…

Or care about the safety and health of its skilled and dedicated workers, or ordering management to closely monitor the safety and health standards applied in the company?

At the first session of my course “Human factors in engineering” I ask my class:  “What is the purpose of an engineer?

The unanimous answer is: “performance”.

What are the criteria for an engineer?  The loud and emphatic answer is: “performance”!

At the first session of my class I repeat several times that the purpose of the engineering discipline is to design practical products or systems that man needs and wants, that human factors engineers are trained to consider first the health and safety of end users, the customers, the operators, and the workers when designing interfaces for products or systems.

At the first session I tell my class that the body of knowledge of human factors is about finding practical design guidelines based on the capabilities and limitations of end users, body and mind, with the following performance criteria:

To eliminate errors, to foresee unsafe misuses, to foresee near-accidents, to design in safety operations, to consider the health problems in the product and its operation, to study the safety and health conditions in the workplace and the organizational procedures…

And to improve working conditions physically, socially, and psychologically, and to be aware of the latest consumer liability legal doctrines.

A month later, I am confronted with the same cycle of questions and answers, mainly: “What is the purpose of an engineer?”  The unanimous answer is: “performance”.  What are the criteria for a human factors engineer?  The loud and emphatic answer is: “performance”!

A few students remember part of the long list of human factors performance criteria, but the end users are still hard to recognize them in their conscious knowledge.

A few students retained the concept of designing practical interfaces or what an interface could be but the pictures of end users are still blurred.

I have to emphasize frequently that the end users could be their engineering colleagues, their family members, and themselves.

I have to remind them that any product, service, or system design is ultimately designed for people to use, operate, and enjoy the benefit of its utility.

Human factors performance criteria are all the above and the design of products or services should alleviating the repetitive musculo-skeletal disorders by reducing efforts, vibration…

And proper handling of tools and equipment, designing for proper postures, minimizing static positions, and especially to keep in mind that any testing and evaluation study should factor in the condition that a worker or an employee is operating 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, and for many years.

I tell them that any profit or cost cutting is ultimately at the expense of workers/employees, their financial stability, safety standards, comfort, and health conditions physically, socially, and psychologically

Whereas any increase in performance should be undertaken as a value added to the safety, comfort, and health of the end users and workers.

Black Friday Death Count

Tally of all the unfortunate deaths and injuries that have ruined the holidays for Black Friday shoppers.
 Violent shootings, pepper-spray accidents and shocking tramplings
7 deaths/88 injuries
DeathsInjuries

Know Your Death Count: The New York Daily News has recently republished an article from 2008 leading many to believe it happened this year.

Deaths Injuries
2013                 Shopper Pepper Sprayed, Arrested in Argument Over TV at New Jersey Walmart 1
2013                 Thanksgiving Day bargain shoppers send 11 year-old to hospital 2
2013                 Teen returning home from Black Friday shopping fell asleep at wheel, killed in wreck 1 4
2013                 Man Stabbed During Black Friday Event at Carlsbad Mall 1
2013                 Newport, Arkansas Walmart employee injured during Black Friday sales 1
2013                 Scenes of chaos during chain store’s Black Friday sales in Ireland 1
2013                 Several injured in Black Friday-related shooting outside Kohl’s in Illinois 2
2013                 Black Friday: Virginia Man Stabbed In Walmart Parking Lot Over Space 1
2013                 Rialto Walmart brawl sends one police officer to hospital 1
2013                 Shopper carrying TV home from Target shot in Las Vegas 1
2012                 Father charged in crash that killed daughters after Black Friday shopping 2 5
2012                 Two People Shot at Tallahassee Walmart Over Parking Space 2
2012                 Black Friday Shoppers Hit By Suspected Drunk Driver In Walmart Parking Lot 2
2011                 Black Friday Worker Rescued From Canal After Losing Control Of Car Due To Exhaustion 1
2011                 Black Friday: Target Shoppers Step Over Walter Vance As He Collapses, Dies 1
2011                 Fights break out at Rome Walmart during Black Friday shopping 2
2011                 Woman Wounded in S.C. Black Friday Robbery Attempt 1
2011                 Off-duty police pepper spray NC shoppers 20
2011                 Shooting outside Calif. Walmart, 1 wounded 1
2011                 Black Friday pepper-spray attack at Walmart injures 20 20
2010                 Former Marine stabbed in Best Buy store by violent customer 1
2009                 Clarksville Woman Trampled During Black Friday Shopping 1
2008                 SoCal Toys ‘R’ Us Shooting Leaves Two Dead 2 2
2008                 Worker dies at Long Island Wal-Mart after being trampled in Black Friday stampede 1 4
2006                 10 Injured in SoCal Black Friday Mall Stampede 10
2006                 Salt Lake Tribune, The : Red-hot on Black Friday‎ 1

Can we Not lose control over Artificial Intelligence?

Scared of super-intelligent AI? You should be, says neuroscientist and philosopher Sam Harris — and not just in some theoretical way.

We’re going to build superhuman machines, says Harris, but we haven’t yet grappled with the problems associated with creating something that may treat us the way we treat ants

Sam Harris. Neuroscientist, philosopher. Full bio

I’m going to talk about a failure of intuition that many of us suffer from. It’s really a failure to detect a certain kind of danger.

I’m going to describe a scenario that I think is both terrifying and likely to occur, and that’s not a good combination, as it turns out. And yet rather than be scared, most of you will feel that what I’m talking about is kind of cool.

0:36 I’m going to describe how the gains we make in artificial intelligence could ultimately destroy us. And in fact, I think it’s very difficult to see how they won’t destroy us or inspire us to destroy ourselves.

And yet if you’re anything like me, you’ll find that it’s fun to think about these things. That response is part of the problem. OK?

That response should worry you. And if I were to convince you in this talk that we were likely to suffer a global famine, either because of climate change or some other catastrophe, and that your grandchildren, or their grandchildren, are very likely to live like this, you wouldn’t think, “Interesting. I like this TED Talk.”

Famine isn’t fun. Death by science fiction, on the other hand, is fun, and one of the things that worries me most about the development of AI at this point is that we seem unable to marshal an appropriate emotional response to the dangers that lie ahead.

I am unable to marshal this response, and I’m giving this talk.

Patsy Z and TEDxSKE shared a link.
ted.com|By Sam Harris
It’s as though we stand before two doors. Behind door number one, we stop making progress in building intelligent machines. Our computer hardware and software just stops getting better for some reason.
Now take a moment to consider why this might happen. I mean, given how valuable intelligence and automation are, we will continue to improve our technology if we are at all able to.
What could stop us from doing this? A full-scale nuclear war? A global pandemic? An asteroid impact? Justin Bieber becoming president of the United States?

The point is, something would have to destroy civilization as we know it. You have to imagine how bad it would have to be to prevent us from making improvements in our technology permanently, generation after generation.

Almost by definition, this is the worst thing that’s ever happened in human history.

the only alternative, and this is what lies behind door number two, is that we continue to improve our intelligent machines year after year after year. At a certain point, we will build machines that are smarter than we are, and once we have machines that are smarter than we are, they will begin to improve themselves.

And we risk what the mathematician IJ Good called an “intelligence explosion,” that the process could get away from us.

this is often caricatured, as I have here, as a fear that armies of malicious robots will attack us. But that isn’t the most likely scenario.

It’s not that our machines will become spontaneously malevolent. The concern is really that we will build machines that are so much more competent than we are that the slightest divergence between their goals and our own could destroy us.

Just think about how we relate to ants. We don’t hate them. We don’t go out of our way to harm them. In fact, sometimes we take pains not to harm them. We step over them on the sidewalk.

But whenever their presence seriously conflicts with one of our goals, let’s say when constructing a building like this one, we annihilate them without a qualm. The concern is that we will one day build machines that, whether they’re conscious or not, could treat us with similar disregard.

I suspect this seems far-fetched to many of you. I bet there are those of you who doubt that superintelligent AI is possible, much less inevitable. But then you must find something wrong with one of the following assumptions. And there are only three of them.

Intelligence is a matter of information processing in physical systems. Actually, this is a little bit more than an assumption. We have already built narrow intelligence into our machines, and many of these machines perform at a level of superhuman intelligence already.

And we know that mere matter can give rise to what is called “general intelligence,” an ability to think flexibly across multiple domains, because our brains have managed it. Right?

I mean, there’s just atoms in here, and as long as we continue to build systems of atoms that display more and more intelligent behavior, we will eventually, unless we are interrupted, we will eventually build general intelligence into our machines.

It’s crucial to realize that the rate of progress doesn’t matter, because any progress is enough to get us into the end zone. We don’t need Moore’s law to continue. We don’t need exponential progress. We just need to keep going.

The second assumption is that we will keep going. We will continue to improve our intelligent machines. And given the value of intelligence — I mean, intelligence is either the source of everything we value or we need it to safeguard everything we value.

It is our most valuable resource. So we want to do this. We have problems that we desperately need to solve. We want to cure diseases like Alzheimer’s and cancer.

We want to understand economic systems. We want to improve our climate science.

So we will do this, if we can. The train is already out of the station, and there’s no brake to pull.

Finally, we don’t stand on a peak of intelligence, or anywhere near it, likely. And this really is the crucial insight. This is what makes our situation so precarious, and this is what makes our intuitions about risk so unreliable.

just consider the smartest person who has ever lived. On almost everyone’s shortlist here is John von Neumann.

I mean, the impression that von Neumann made on the people around him, and this included the greatest mathematicians and physicists of his time, is fairly well-documented. If only half the stories about him are half true, there’s no question he’s one of the smartest people who has ever lived.

So consider the spectrum of intelligence. Here we have John von Neumann. And then we have you and me. And then we have a chicken.

There’s no reason for me to make this talk more depressing than it needs to be.

It seems overwhelmingly likely, however, that the spectrum of intelligence extends much further than we currently conceive, and if we build machines that are more intelligent than we are, they will very likely explore this spectrum in ways that we can’t imagine, and exceed us in ways that we can’t imagine.

And it’s important to recognize that this is true by virtue of speed alone. Right?

So imagine if we just built a superintelligent AI that was no smarter than your average team of researchers at Stanford or MIT.

Well, electronic circuits function about a million times faster than biochemical ones, so this machine should think about a million times faster than the minds that built it.

you set it running for a week, and it will perform 20,000 years of human-level intellectual work, week after week after week. How could we even understand, much less constrain, a mind making this sort of progress?

The other thing that’s worrying, frankly, is that, imagine the best case scenario. So imagine we hit upon a design of superintelligent AI that has no safety concerns. We have the perfect design the first time around.

It’s as though we’ve been handed an oracle that behaves exactly as intended. Well, this machine would be the perfect labor-saving device. It can design the machine that can build the machine that can do any physical work, powered by sunlight, more or less for the cost of raw materials. So we’re talking about the end of human drudgery. We’re also talking about the end of most intellectual work.

what would apes like ourselves do in this circumstance? Well, we’d be free to play Frisbee and give each other massages. Add some LSD and some questionable wardrobe choices, and the whole world could be like Burning Man.

 that might sound pretty good, but ask yourself what would happen under our current economic and political order?

It seems likely that we would witness a level of wealth inequality and unemployment that we have never seen before. Absent a willingness to immediately put this new wealth to the service of all humanity, a few trillionaires could grace the covers of our business magazines while the rest of the world would be free to starve.

And what would the Russians or the Chinese do if they heard that some company in Silicon Valley was about to deploy a superintelligent AI? This machine would be capable of waging war, whether terrestrial or cyber, with unprecedented power.

This is a winner-take-all scenario. To be six months ahead of the competition here is to be 500,000 years ahead, at a minimum. So it seems that even mere rumors of this kind of breakthrough could cause our species to go berserk.

one of the most frightening things, in my view, at this moment, are the kinds of things that AI researchers say when they want to be reassuring. And the most common reason we’re told not to worry is time.

This is all a long way off, don’t you know. This is probably 50 or 100 years away. One researcher has said, “Worrying about AI safety is like worrying about overpopulation on Mars.” This is the Silicon Valley version of “don’t worry your pretty little head about it.”

No one seems to notice that referencing the time horizon is a total non sequitur. If intelligence is just a matter of information processing, and we continue to improve our machines, we will produce some form of superintelligence.

And we have no idea how long it will take us to create the conditions to do that safely. Let me say that again. We have no idea how long it will take us to create the conditions to do that safely.

 if you haven’t noticed, 50 years is not what it used to be. This is 50 years in months. This is how long we’ve had the iPhone. This is how long “The Simpsons” has been on television. Fifty years is not that much time to meet one of the greatest challenges our species will ever face.

Once again, we seem to be failing to have an appropriate emotional response to what we have every reason to believe is coming.

The computer scientist Stuart Russell has a nice analogy here. He said, imagine that we received a message from an alien civilization, which read: “People of Earth, we will arrive on your planet in 50 years. Get ready.” And now we’re just counting down the months until the mothership lands? We would feel a little more urgency than we do.

Another reason we’re told not to worry is that these machines can’t help but share our values because they will be literally extensions of ourselves.

They’ll be grafted onto our brains, and we’ll essentially become their limbic systems. Now take a moment to consider that the safest and only prudent path forward, recommended, is to implant this technology directly into our brains.

this may in fact be the safest and only prudent path forward, but usually one’s safety concerns about a technology have to be pretty much worked out before you stick it inside your head.

The deeper problem is that building superintelligent AI on its own seems likely to be easier than building superintelligent AI and having the completed neuroscience that allows us to seamlessly integrate our minds with it.

And given that the companies and governments doing this work are likely to perceive themselves as being in a race against all others, given that to win this race is to win the world, provided you don’t destroy it in the next moment, then it seems likely that whatever is easier to do will get done first.

I don’t have a solution to this problem, apart from recommending that more of us think about it. I think we need something like a Manhattan Project on the topic of artificial intelligence.

Not to build it, because I think we’ll inevitably do that, but to understand how to avoid an arms race and to build it in a way that is aligned with our interests. When you’re talking about superintelligent AI that can make changes to itself, it seems that we only have one chance to get the initial conditions right, and even then we will need to absorb the economic and political consequences of getting them right.

13:44 But the moment we admit that information processing is the source of intelligence, that some appropriate computational system is what the basis of intelligence is, and we admit that we will improve these systems continuously, and we admit that the horizon of cognition very likely far exceeds what we currently know, then we have to admit that we are in the process of building some sort of a God. Now would be a good time to make sure it’s a god we can live with.

State of Emergency declared by Palestinian Red Crescent:

14 ambulances targeted by Israeli force

77 Palestinian youth fell by live bullet in a single day of demonstrations

Scores detained on administrative charges

PRCS Declares a State of Emergency following the escalation of the attacks against Palestinians and its ambulances in the Past 72 hours

(Al-Bireh-4/10/2015): PRCS declared a level 3 state of emergency in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, in response to developments on the ground and increased attacks by occupation forces and settlers.

PRCS also activated its central Operations Room at its HQ in Al-Bireh, with all PRCS’ staff, teams and volunteers put on standby.

PRCS announced that fourteen attacks were carried out against its staff and vehicles by occupation forces and settlers in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the past 72 hours, in a serious escalation of violations against PRCS, its teams and the humanitarian services they render.

Tanya Habjouqa shared this link

Amid a worrying escalation of violence in the West Bank, the Palestinian Red Crescent Society has declared a ‘State of Emergency’ following attacks against Palestinians and its ambulances over the past 3 days.

palestinercs.org|By Palestine Red Crescent Society

On Sunday the 4th of October, Israeli occupation soldiers attacked a PRCS’ ambulance in the line of duty in front of Al Quds University in Abou Diss, firing rubber bullets and tear gas grenades at it. (Palestinian university students are shared the uprising, possibly a third Intifada)

On the 2nd of October, occupation soldiers attacked an ambulance in Al Eissawiyeh to the North of Jerusalem.

They then proceeded to arrest an injured Palestinian from inside the ambulance.

In Boureen (Nablus Governorate), settlers prevented a PRCS’ ambulance from discharging its humanitarian duty and smashed its windshield.

The next day, 5 PRCS’ paramedics were beaten up by soldiers in Jerusalem.

That same day, another group of soldiers attacked with their batons another PRCS’ ambulance in the Old City of Jerusalem.

Also on the same day, occupation soldiers severely beat another ambulance crew in Jabal Al Taweel (Al-Bireh), wounding two paramedics.

They then kidnapped an injured Palestinian from inside the ambulance, firing tear gas grenades and rubber bullets at it.

PRCS underlines that these practices constitute a blatant violation of key IHL provisions, mainly the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 on the protection of civilians in time of war, which legally applies to the oPt.

This Convention affords protection to the personnel engaged in the search for, removal and transporting of and caring for wounded and sick civilians.

It also calls for the respect of human life and dignity in times of military occupation. In particular, such practices constitute a crying violation of article 63 of the Fourth Geneva Convention which states that recognized National Red Cross (Red Crescent, Red Lion and Sun) Societies shall be allowed to pursue their activities.

PRCS urges the International Community, represented by the UN General Assembly and Security Council, to shoulder their responsibilities by taking the necessary steps to make Israeli occupation authorities comply with IHL provisions, and to put an end to the targeting of civilians and their properties.

It calls on these parties to compel Israel to respect IHL provisions regarding the respect of medical and PRCS’ emblems, and recalls that the occupying power is obliged to protect emergency, medical and relief personnel and to facilitate their safe access to the sick and wounded. End.

Note: 77 Palestinians injured by live, rubber bullets in 24 hours: Red Crescent
The Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) says nearly 80 Palestinians have been injured from live rounds and rubber bullets in clashes with Israeli forces and illegal settlers in the past 24 hours.
en.abna24.com

 

Caution: Artificial Intelligence is a Frankenstein

In the late 1980’s, Artificial Intelligence programs relied on practicing experts in practical fields in order to extract the “How to, and how to go about when a problem hits the system” using a series of questions: “What if“. These programs were designed to foresee going many experts into retirement  and the need to train new comers with the least cost and hire the minimum numbers of new employees.

Artificial Intelligence has progress and branched into many fields and this time around it is the professionals in labs who are designing the sophisticated software.

An open letter calling for caution to ensure intelligent machines do not run beyond our control has been signed by a large and growing number of people, including some of the leading figures in artificial intelligence.

“There is now a broad consensus that (AI) research is progressing steadily, and that its impact on society is likely to increase,” the letter said.

“The potential benefits are huge, since everything that civilization has to offer is a product of ; we cannot predict what we might achieve when this intelligence is magnified by the tools AI may provide, but the eradication of disease and poverty are not unfathomable,” it added.

“Because of the great potential of AI, it is important to research how to reap its benefits while avoiding potential pitfalls.”

How to handle the prospect of automatic weapons that might kill indiscriminately, the liabilities of automatically driven cars and the prospect of losing control of AI systems so that they no longer align with human wishes, were among the concerns raised in the letter that signees said deserve further research

Scientists urge artificial intelligence safety focus

Jan 12, 2015

Roboy, a humanoid robot developed at the University of Zurich,at the 2014 CeBIT technology trade fair on March 9, 2014 in Hanove
Roboy, a humanoid robot developed at the University of Zurich,at the 2014 CeBIT technology trade fair on March 9, 2014 in Hanover, Germany

Scientists and Engineers Warn Of The Dangers Of Artificial Intelligence

January 13, 2015 | by Stephen Luntz

Fears of our creations turning on us stretch back at least as far as Frankenstein, and films such as The Terminator gave us a whole new language to discuss what would happen when robots stopped taking orders.

However, as computers beat (most of) us at Jeopardy and self-driving cars appear on our roads, we may be getting closer to the point where we will have to tackle these issues.

In December, Stephen Hawking kicked off a renewed debate on the topic.

As someone whose capacity to communicate depends on advanced computer technology, Hawking can hardly be dismissed as a Luddite, and his thoughts tend to attract attention.

The letter was initiated by the Future of Life Institute, a volunteer organization that describes itself as “working to mitigate existential risks facing humanity.” The letter notes:

“As capabilities in these areas and others cross the threshold from laboratory research to economically valuable technologies, a virtuous cycle takes hold whereby even small improvements in performance are worth large sums of money, prompting greater investments in research.

There is now a broad consensus that AI research is progressing steadily, and that its impact on society is likely to increase. The potential benefits are huge, since everything that civilization has to offer is a product of human intelligence; we cannot predict what we might achieve when this intelligence is magnified by the tools AI may provide, but the eradication of disease and poverty are not unfathomable.

Because of the great potential of AI, it is important to research how to reap its benefits while avoiding potential pitfalls.”

The authors add that “our AI systems must do what we want them to do,” and have set out research priorities they believe will help “maximize the societal benefit of AI.”

Anyone can sign, and at the time of this writing well over a thousand people have done so. While many did not indicate an affiliation, names such as Elon Musk and Hawking himself are easily recognized.

Many of the other names on the list are leading researchers in IT or philosophy, including the IBM team behind the Watson supercomputer.

So much intellectual and financial heft may make their prospects good for conducting research in the areas proposed. Musk has said he invests in companies researching AI in order to keep an eye on them.

Musk worries that even if most researchers behave responsibly, in the absence of international regulation, a single rogue nation or corporation could produce self-replicating machines whose priorities might be very different to humanity’s, and once industries become established they become resistant to control.

 

Female socialist activist is gunned down by police during demonstrations on fourth anniversary of Arab Spring that ousted Hosni Mubarak

So far, 20 Egyptians died in this long day of demonstrations throughout Egypt.

Egyptian Arab Spring is still bringing its toll of brutal military dictatorship.

  • WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT 
  • Shaima al-Sabbagh died of birdshot wounds in clashes with police
  • Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab vowed to ‘punish’ whoever is responsible 
  • Al-Sabbagh’s death follows that of an 18-year-old protester on Friday 
  • WHAT IS BIRD SHOT AMMUNITION?

A female demonstrator was killed in clashes with Egyptian police during a protest in central Cairo today on the eve of the anniversary of the 2011 uprising against Hosni Mubarak.

A health ministry spokesman said Shaima al-Sabbagh died of birdshot wounds, which fellow protesters said were fired by police to disperse the march.

Al-Sabbagh, who was said to be 34-years-old with a five-year-old son, was shot while she peacefully marched towards the Tahrir Square to lay a commemorative wreath of roses.

Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab said al-Sabbagh’s death was being investigated and vowed that ‘whoever committed a mistake will be punished, whoever he may be.’

Socialist Popular Alliance Party activist Shaima al-Sabbagh (middle) was shot and died of birdshot wounds during clashes with Egyptian police during a protest in central Cairo today on the eve of the anniversary of the 2011 uprising against Hosni Mubarak

Al-Sabbagh can be seen, right, hitting the ground as a fellow protester comes to her aide during the clashes

Al-Sabbagh can be seen, right, hitting the ground as a fellow protester comes to her aide during the clashes

Fellow protesters said Al-Sabbagh was shot by police trying to disperse those involved in the protest march

Fellow protesters said Al-Sabbagh was shot by police trying to disperse those involved in the protest march

Al-Sabbagh, a member of the party, was hit in the head with birdshot, and was taken to a hospital where she was declared dead.

The interior ministry said it was investigating the death, and suggested Islamist ‘infiltrators’ were to blame.

The clash took place hours before state television aired a pre-recorded speech by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to mark the fourth anniversary of the uprising.

He said: ‘I salute all our martyrs, from the beginning of January 25 (2011) until now.’

The speech appears to have been taped in the presidential palace before Sisi left for Saudi Arabia to offer his condolences over the death of King Abdullah. 

Islamists called for protests tomorrow to revive what they say was the ‘revolution’ that overthrew Mubarak. It also briefly brought to power Islamist president Mohamed Morsi who was toppled by the then army chief Sisi in July 2013.

Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab said al-Sabbagh's death was being investigated and vowed that 'whoever committed a mistake will be punished, whoever he may be'

Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab said al-Sabbagh’s death was being investigated and vowed that ‘whoever committed a mistake will be punished, whoever he may be’

Morsi’s supporters often hold small rallies that police quickly disperse.

Yesterday an 18-year-old female protester was killed in clashes in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria. Police had warned they would confront protests ‘decisively.’

Authorities have cracked down on the Islamists since the military overthrew Morsi after a year in power, and hundreds have been killed in clashes.

Scores of policemen and soldiers have also been killed in militant attacks.

The crackdown has also extended to leftwing and secular dissidents who initially supported Morsi’s overthrow but have since turned against the new authorities, accusing them of being authoritarian.

Today’s central Cairo protest was organised by the Socialist Popular Alliance party.

Egyptian policemen detain a supporter of the People's Alliance Party during a demonstration in Cairo's Talaat Harb square, near Tahrir square

Egyptian policemen detain a supporter of the People’s Alliance Party during a demonstration in Cairo’s Talaat Harb square, near Tahrir square

Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood movement leave as security forces arrive to disperse a demonstration on January 24, 2015 in the Cairo district of Heliopolis
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Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood movement leave as security forces arrive to disperse a demonstration on January 24, 2015 in the Cairo district of Heliopolis

Party member Adel el-Meligy said: ‘The party decided to hold a symbolic protest to commemorate the anniversary of the January 25 revolution.’

WHAT IS BIRD SHOT AMMUNITION

Bird shot is designed to be used in shotgun shells and consist of spheres of metal, or bb’s, that can be packed into a shell and which separate when fired.

It was originally made from lead, but is now made from steel, tungsten and other materials.

The ammunition was designed for shooting birds but it can injure larger animals.

In 2006 American Vice-President Dick Cheney accidentally shot a fellow hunter with it. His victim was not severely injured.

Birdshot is used by law enforcement as a non-lethal alternative to shot gun pellets and is often used in riot and protest situations.

Police also replace the slugs with rubber bullets. (That should be a better idea)

He said police fired tear gas, birdshot and arrested the party’s secretary general and five other young members.

The 18-day anti-Mubarak revolt had been fuelled by police abuses and the corruption of the strongman’s three decade rule, but the police have since regained popularity amid widespread yearning for stability.

Activists, including those who spearheaded the anti-Mubarak revolt, have accused Sisi of reviving aspects of the former autocrat’s rule.

Sisi and his supporters deny such allegations, and point to his widespread popularity and support for a firm hand in dealing with protests, which are seen as damaging to an economic recovery.

The anniversary will be marked just days after a court ordered the release of Mubarak’s two sons, Gamal and Alaa, pending a corruption retrial along with their father.

Another court had dismissed charges against Hosni Mubarak over the deaths of protesters.

Archive footage of anti-Mubarak uprising in Egypt

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2924709/Shocking-moment-female-socialist-activist-gunned-police-demonstrations-4th-anniversary-Arab-Spring-ousted-Hosni-Mubarak.html#ixzz3PowZlldR
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