Comments At The End Of 2023

As the year 2023 (or 02023 as the folks at the Long Now Foundation suggest) draws to a close I will post a few comments.

I will begin by mentioning that I sold my condo in San Jose, California in July and I now live in Tempe, Arizona. I am getting to know Tempe as well as the greater Phoenix area. My email addresses and phone numbers have not changed and still work. If someone has a valid need for my physical address then please contact me via email, I am not going to publicize my address here for every junk mail provider to harvest. And no, I did not leave California for any common reason such as taxes, crime or any of the other reasons thrown about in media these days. So I suggest some restraint in those who are thinking of using my departure from California as one more example to justify their prior opinions.
Another personal item is that in October I finished the three year course of medication I was taking. Following the cancer surgery for a tumor in July 2020 and after a few weeks of stabilization I started the medication intended to prevent recurrence of the cancer. The medication did have side effects however according to my oncologist I tolerated them better than many patients. I feel better now that I am no longer taking the medication. I am glad I am done and I hope I do not need to go back on it again.

Rather than a commenting on the year as a whole I am going to write a few ideas I am considering concerning ChatGPT and other similar AI technology. Articles  about ChatGPT were popping up in many publications in early 2023 and the topic was in many conversations. One could encounter a "AI will kill us all" story or
 a "AI will take all of the jobs and we will all starve" story. And we have all read the ChatGPT making up references to legal cases that do not exist and about educators worried that students will use the technology to write their papers. Artists and authors are concerned that they will be replaced.

I am not dismissing these concerns nor am I adopting them uncritically. My suggestion is that there be some serious thought about the situation. So what follows are some thoughts which I have had during the year. These are preliminary and not perfect, I hope they are helpful.

According to the Radiological Society of North America website human radiologists out perform AI in accurately identifying the presence and absence of three common lung diseases, the article is reporting on a study published in the journal Radiology.  If we take RSNA article as correct we might look at the future where in perhaps 10 years we have a situation where AI is slightly better than human however an AI and human together is slightly better than an AI alone. Now imagine another ten year where perhaps an AI alone is as good as an AI and human together; the human is superfluous.  Or what happens if the AI alone is better than an AI and human together; that is the human is just getting in the way. I am not making the two consecutive ten year periods as predictions, I am using ten years because twenty years split into to ten year segments is a manageable exercise for most readers. As we leave 2023 to enter 2024 we can look back to 2004 and 2014 to see how much progress has been made. So I think it is not unreasonable and perhaps should be expected that by 2044 an AI working alone will better than either a human alone or a human with AI together. If that is the case then the standard of medical care will be an AI working alone doing radiology. I
suspect that most people will say "well this involves the health of people so the humans need to step aside" or some similar attitude.

Now consider the case of therapists such clinical psychologists. Many of us can remember Eliza or similar early conversation response programs and the common wisdom was that they were cute but would never replace a trained therapist. What happens if AI become better at providing service as a therapist? Even if the AI therapist is beneficial for a subset of the population that prefers to deal with an AI rather than a human. Would not the guideline of providing "best care" lead to the AI replacing human therapists in at least in some situations?

Now consider artists and writers. If we take as valid the assertion that positive depictions of LGBTQ+ characters in written and visual media helped lead to greater acceptance of the LGBTQ+ individuals then we might want to consider those persons who created those depictions. In the case of visual media that would be producers, directors, writers, artists and those who act or voice the part.  We remember the Writers Guild of America screenwriters strike of 2023 and one of the issues in the strike related to the use of AI in creating scripts. That strike was settled and the question did not occur in news reporting as frequently. However let us think about the situation in a few years when the contract expires. Looking at the future imagine there is an AI which paired with some humans can create scripts which have humor, tension, angst, grief and all of the other things which make a show successful as well as tends to make persons more accepting of and kinder to other people. Would everyone be happy that AI was involved because of the positive outcome? But what if the number of humans involved was half the number previously needed? What happens when the AI does not need humans at all but is superior is creating stories that build feelings of compassion and benevolence. Is this worth the trade-off?

At this point I suspect that most readers will have noticed the progression from a medical setting through a therapy setting to what might be called a creative setting. Certainly this is an example of an old rhetoric devise, it would be interested to imagine how persons might react to these if the order of presentation was reversed.

It is worth noting that in the therapy example it was implied that the person undergoing counseling was "better" after counseling from the AI? But what definition of "better" do we use? Consider a very pious religious person who goes to an AI therapist in order to gain insight on how to get along better with coworkers. For this person the idea of "better" might be to continue as devoutly religious while developing skills and insights to more successfully interaction with coworkers. Now consider this person after the therapy who gets along much better with their coworkers and is also now not religious at all. This person might well say their current concept of "better" includes being rid of religion in addition to getting along with their coworkers. However I suspect that this person's coreligionists would not consider "better" as descriptive of the post therapy situation. I mention this because a similar change of the meaning of "better" might occur with a human therapist and we want to make sure we do not forget it.

And certainly we can imagine the possibility of an AI producing screenplays which would tend to lead people to be intolerant of others. Humans have historically been good at creating propaganda and stirring animosity toward other persons based on race, ethnicity, religion and many other factors so it is reasonable to think that AI could as well.

So what is the answer? In my opinion there is no single "answer" and I am
 not persuaded by those who are in a "moral panic" and demand immediate drastic action. I seldom find "moral panic" arguments persuasive. What I suggest for 2024 is some serious consideration and analysis. I recommend the following:
1. Every analysis or proposed action put forward should contain a detailed addendum with the flaws and shortcoming of the analysis or proposed action. This addendum should be done by those who prepared the analysis or action. Everyone needs to seriously be critical of their own analysis and proposals. This addendum should include what tests could be done to show it false in part or in whole.
2. Every criticism of an analysis or proposed action must begin with a restatement of the analysis or action in the most reasonable manner and be acceptable to those proposing it. This approach has several names including "Principle of Charity", "Steelwoman", "Steelman" and is useful to reduce what are commonly called "strawman" arguments. In addition if there is something with which the opponents of a proposal agree then that should be acknowledged explicitly.
These two guidelines are not necessarily perfect in every circumstance. They are at best only a beginning however I think they are a very valuable beginning and much more work is needed. The astute reader will note that these guidelines are based on the ideas of Sir Karl Popper, W. W. Bartley and Daniel Dennett. If you are not familiar with Pan Critical Rationalism and with Rakpoport's Rules (aka Dennett's Rules) I suggest familiarizing yourself with them. I will also note that I first encountered the term steelman in a podcast by Julia Galef.

Hopefully these comments are helpful and we can work for a better 2024. For those interested in reading a classic story that touches on some of these issues I recommend the story by Jack Williamson titled "With Folded Hands"  and there is a fine discussion of the story on Wikipedia. I have written a bit of short fiction titled The Story Of The Story which looks at the use of AI in a near future setting, at least it was near future when I wrote it a couple of years ago.



A Short Story In Which AI Generated Stories Play A Major Part

Given the current discussions I thought some might enjoy something which I started on several years ago. It needs some polishing however I decided to put it up now in case anyone finds it entertaining.

The Story Of The Story

by F. C. Moulton

In Lagos the night rain has ended, dawn is sliding into early morning. Sunlight hitting drops of water clinging to leaves produces a light show as I walk past the park heading to work. I am Gbenga, a computer professional, and today is important, a physically present day not a work-from-home day.

Today I need to do operating system installs and configuration on a special rack of servers. A customer wants high availability servers physically in Lagos in addition to the typical servers in the cloud. And not network connected installs; instead they want old school installs; custom tweaked OS from a checksum verified CD along with extensive burn-in. If that is what the customer wants, then that is what the customer gets. I work for a company that has a reputation for meeting customer requests. Particularly for a customer with the money to pay for a highly reliable and secure infrastructure for their new financial business.

I am fortunate that I have only a three kilometer trip from home to the computer server colocation facility, and the first half kilometer is past one of the better parks in Lagos. The morning light and the walk lift my mood slightly. However nice weather and some easy exercise are not enough to vanish all of my concerns; if nothing else my face mask is a constant reminder. Another virus: this time it is SARS-cov-5 causing Covid-30 which hit Lagos a few weeks ago. For the past decade each year has been a year of sickness; fortunately Covid-30 is less deadly, the symptoms are milder, recovery more rapid and thus far the survivors have fewer lingering effects. But it is spreading at a fast rate. 2020 was the worst because there had been so many unknowns. Now in 2030 more is known, better treatments are available and hopefully even more effective vaccines are coming.

Now almost everyone over the age of four knows the drill. It is the norm that anyone outside their home wears a mask. By now it will feel like walking out your front door naked if you are not wearing a mask. Children are taught the proper protocol at home, and it is also part of the curriculum in every school. Every student knows about washing their hands often and thoroughly. Every student knows about wearing their mask in a proper manner. Every student knows about two meter social distance, although social distancing is not always easy and not always followed. For adults the advertising campaign of "If a first year elementary school student can handle SARS-cov-5 correctly, then so can an adult" seems to be working.

The thought of schools reminds me of my brother-in-law Olalekan who is both co-principal and co-owner of one of the best private senior secondary schools in Lagos. His twin passions are history and teaching. He is a good husband for my older sister; Darasimi, as well as being a good father to their children. Olalekan is a quirky conversationalist; last month he was proclaiming "Lagos is becoming another London" most assuredly. When I looked at him quizzically he pointed out that in London one can get a very good meal in any major world cuisine as well as find local enclaves of numerous ethnicities and cultures. Lagos is becoming the same. People and investments from PRC, India, Vietnam, USA, England, Peru, Mexico, Taiwan, Costa Rica and most EU countries are all flocking to Nigeria in general and Lagos in particular. Lagos is becoming one the major tech and financial centers for the continent of Africa.

Perhaps Olalekan has at least the start of a point since today Lagos is so different from nine or ten years ago. Not just the new construction and infrastructure but the culture is changing. Already there is a restaurant in Lagos that serves mater paneer that is as good as any in London, according to my sister Darasimi. She developed a taste for Indian food while doing her medical residency in London and mater paneer is one of her favorite dishes.

Olalekan is certainly exaggerating the situation somewhat. Lagos is not yet London regardless of how much Lagos is growing and changing. The foreign investments have certainly made changes. Some people benefit and some do not. Housing prices started going up; then a boom in new housing actually caused prices to drop a couple of percent. Now it appears that another run up in prices will start in the next six months, which should spur more construction. This construction spurt might last for many years.

Some traditionalists, particularly the old Marxist-Leninists, claim it is Western Colonialism all over again. This usually causes laughter, given that less than half of the business activity is driven by the USA or the EU. About half of the new investments are about equally split, being from India and from the People's Republic of China. Some of the new companies are joint ventures of private investors and the People's Liberation Army and other parts of the Communist Party. Well, the old Marxist-Leninist crowd does have a small point that all of the people and money pouring in have given a boost to many changes and the benefits are not equally distributed.

I and the rest of the Akintola family have prospered. Yes we are a hard-working, industrious family; however I know that I had many advantages that others have not had. Darasimi and Olalekan are parents of two children, making me the proud uncle of my niece and nephew. And, importantly, reducing the pressure from my parents for me to get married and produce grandchildren. Darasimi is a wonder, being able to be a mother to two children while being a medical doctor. Currently Darasimi is indefinitely quarantined in a village in the next region about seventy five kilometers away. No report of the virus there; however part of the nationwide virus drill is to suspend travel into and out of all regions immediately on virus detection in any region.

Nine days ago Darasimi left for her quarterly two week rotation at the clinic. The rotation is not an optimal situation; however it is the best the clinic can manage since they have not convinced a doctor to take the full time position. As Darasimi says, "Nobody wants to stay in the rural area when there is the possibility of working in a large city", which is evidenced by the flood of people trying to move into Lagos and other cities.

Out of my daydreaming I notice I am just past the park, almost at a CleanTrip stop. Nobody is in queue. Sweet. I glance at my mobile and the app shows a CleanTrip vehicle arriving in two minutes with one open slot so I quickly enter my destination and reserve the slot. The walk is wonderful; however today getting to work quickly and being virus free is of higher priority. I am mostly confident that I will not be exposed if I continue walking; however if I use CleanTrip then I will stay off the sidewalk which gets crowded in a couple of hundred meters and I can get to work sooner.

The CleanTrip vehicle pulls up and I see the attendant open up the compartment for me which has just finished the UV light sterilization cycle, after a visual inspection of the compartment the attendant scans the QR code on my mobile phone. Then I step in and sit down. The door closes, and a moment later I feel the quiet and clean acceleration of the electric vehicle.

I am in the second row in the middle seat so I can only see straight ahead, with no side view like those on either side of me. Fortunately the second row is elevated enough that I can see over the first row as well as the compartment where the driver and attendant sit. In the distance I can just see the neighborhood where my parents have their home, and I make a mental note to contact them to ask how they are doing and if they need anything. Either email this morning or phone call later in the afternoon since I will be in the server room all morning where it is too noisy for phone calls.

I expect my parents are fine although a bit tired after caring for my niece and nephew while my brother-in-law recovers. Yes, my brother in law caught Covid-30 although he is recovering well and should be able to take the children back in two days. Usually Olalekan is able to handle the children as well as his school duties during Darasimi’s two week rotation.

I am a relatively well paid professional, better off than many in Lagos. Lagos certainly has some who are in poverty but not as many as previously, and the starvation that had made the news in decades past is now mostly a bad memory for the history books. The virus problems from 2020 slowed, but not stopped, the improvement in Nigeria. Now Nigeria has had eight years of continual growth. I am doing relatively well for myself with a small condo in a nice building. My parents are self sufficient and still live in their home.

Still some extra money would be good. There are always unforeseen expenses, and the financial reserve that I had build up has recently dwindled significantly. My fiancee, Ayomide is in Edinburgh studying in their new Economics of Business and Finance program, and hopes to finish her PhD by the end of the next term now that she is healthy again. She was just finishing dissertation revisions when she had to spend ten days in hospital because she was hit with Covid-29 from SARS-cov-4 which was a nasty version but vanished due to a new vaccine. 

One of her professors was in the room across the hall and a couple of times when their condition was starting to improve and they had enough energy they would exchange text message on their mobile phones. When they saw one of the other students being moved to a room down the hall they joked that as soon as they had more energy they could start the Seminar of the Afflicted. The next day Darasimi asked how the other student was doing and the nurse was suddenly too busy to answer the question. The professor found out that the other student had taken a sudden turn for the worse and been sent to the ICU, declined rapidly and was dead twelve hours later. The Seminar of the Afflicted never met.

I had longed to be with my fiancee while she was in hospital however; even if I could get through the travel restrictions; I knew flying to Edinburgh would be useless since there would be no access to the hospital due to their isolation rules. So I remained in Nigeria and was much relieved when she was out of hospital and back on schedule to graduate soon. Until she is back in Nigeria our video sessions have to suffice. My financial reserves were depleted when I had to send money to her because the funds she was to receive for being a teaching assistant were not transferred to her account due to the virus hitting the university’s Payment Processing Department unusually hard. So I sent money from my reserve funds and wondered if the Payment Processing Department would send her TA payments after she had received her degree and was back in Nigeria and we were married. If the funds do arrive, will they count as Nigerian income or can we claim the funds are not subject to taxation since the funds are a wedding present from the University?

So the not urgent but nagging question comes to mind. How to replenish my financial reserve? I mull it over as CleanTrip takes me to the new co-lo facility. At the CleanTrip stop as I exit the vehicle I remember a news article from some online news aggregator about a short story contest in New York City. Due to New York City being in another Public Health Order mandated restriction, the contest is designed to boost morale and spur creativity. A new startup combining a payment service, a social media platform and a news outlet is attempting to get publicity as the sponsor. The sponsor promises forty prizes of $300 each and one grand prize of $6000 with the expectation that the larger than usual number of smaller prizes will generate interest. 

If I can write some stories and win a couple of the $300 dollar prices that will be a small start on rebuilding my financial reserves. A cascade of thoughts ensued. One thought is that I am not a great writer, I am adequate for technical matters but for fiction my skills are low. Just as a person with a hammer tends to view everything as a nail, since computer are my field I start considering computers for a solution. I remember that about a year ago there had been a craze in the tech community of people using an artificial intelligence program to write short stories for children then mixing the stories with human written ones and having the children guess which were from human authors and which from the AI program. The results were not conclusive mainly because everyone lost interest as soon as the last pandemic crisis had passed and the stay-at-home requirement was lifted. Plus the children were not particularly interested in making the choice since they seemed either to like a story or not like a story and did not care much about authorship.

For the idea to work I will need to actually run the program extensively since I expect that most of the stories will be of middling quality at best. To run the program requires computing resources. I am smiling as I thought about the server burn-in that I need to perform, since generating stories will extensively use the CPU and RAM as well as doing many read and write operations to the attached storage.

I remember that I have a copy of the program and wonder what will happen if I change the settings from "Children" to "Adult” mode. While looking at the config file I notice a setting for enabling the program to do an extra level of analysis of story quality with the caution that it significantly increases CPU usage. This looks like what I need. Let the AI exercise the customer’s servers by evaluating the just-finished stories at the same time the servers generate more stories, then ideally find the best dozen or so stories and submit them. If only one wins, then that was $300 to the financial reserve or actually a bit less after transaction charges; if two win then so much the better.

The rules did not say entrants need to be residents of NYC or even the USA; the only requirement is that the Grand Prize winner needs to be a publicity photo of the winner with the plaque and check. Winning the grand prize is not likely, so I do not need to worry about that. Only the Grand Prize is paid by check, just for the publicity value; all of the other prizes are paid by the new electronic payment system of the contest sponsor. What I need are reasonable names and email addresses since the rules state one entry per email address but did not prohibit a person from using more than one email address; so what is not prohibited is allowed. The submissions will be sent to the judges with a hash of the email address as a digital token identifier for the manuscript. They do not want someone claiming that a judge spotted the email address of a friend or was swayed one way or the other if an entry comes from the email domain of a prominent New York firm.

Once I had the OS installs complete and was ready for burn-in I decide to run the program and generate three stories as a test.

The results are at least readable, with reasonable characters, understandable plots, recognizable settings and no gibberish. Based on the first three I set the program to run seventy two more so I will have a total of seventy five stories. I plan to pick the top twenty percent to have fifteen decent stories for entry. While the computer computes I begin creating fifteen free throwaway email accounts; even though not necessary I began using common New York City names such as Dr. Lee, Ronald Brown, Alice Goldberg, M. Wong and set up the electronic payment account for each based on the email accounts.

With the stories complete I do a quick pass. Some I stop reading after the first paragraph, some after the first page or two. About thirty are worth reading to the end, and these I pare down to what I consider the fifteen best. It is a Thursday after work when I submit the entries. 

A couple of weeks later it is Monday evening after work when I check the fifteen email accounts. First three have nothing. Fourth is a congratulations email saying that the story is awarded one of the $300 prizes with the amount already transferred. I check the electronic payment account associated with that email address, and sure enough the funds are in the account.

I continue to check and find one $300 winner in the next six, then two duds. Then the next email account I check has a message with a subject line "Grand Prize Notification" and my heart starts to thump as I read the email. Yes, it appears that the Alice Goldberg submission has won the Grand Prize. I stare at the screen for a moment before rereading the message. Then to clear my head I look out the window and focus on the plants and flowers that beautify the patio of the condo across the street from mine. Minutes tick past as I mull over a situation which I had not expected.

Not thinking of any obvious plan I check the rest of the accounts. In the very next account is a $300 winner. Then duds until the last account in my list comes up another $300 winner. A total of four $300 winners. I check the payment accounts and each has the full $300, which means the payment company is waiving all fees, probably as part of the deal of being a sponsor.

I move the $1200 around through some online fintech services. That does not make the money untraceable; it is merely somewhat difficult to trace and that is all I need to avoid the tax authority who typically went after easy pickings.

I decide to keep half and apply the rest to a couple of good purposes. I conclude some should go to the medical clinic. With the rest of the funds I decide to buy testing tokens. For the medical clinic, just to make sure there are no sticky fingers in the process I decide to keep the money out of any official hands. I set up a $300 credit at a highly respected and well vetted medical supply wholesaler and ask my sister to check with the staff at the clinic on her rotation visits to order from the wholesaler what they need most.

There is an international testing company which administrates online educational attainment and skills tests world wide. Although headquartered in San Jose about a third of their business is in Africa. I buy test tokens worth $300. The tokens are sixty four character hex strings that allow the bearer to pay for one set of tests. I encrypt the list and send it to Olalekan's uncle, who runs a secondary school which serves students from families not as wealthy as those in Olalekan's school. Then I call him to tell him the passcode and to invite him and his spouse to meet me at their favorite taqueria the next evening.

I keep the remaining $600 to begin to replenish my financial reserves. Not a lot of money; however it is a start.

The more difficult consideration is about the grand prize: what to do? Going to New York and claiming to be Alice Goldberg just does not make sense. Staying in Nigeria and claiming to be Alice Goldberg also has a lot of potential problems. Plus I just do not feel right about taking the Grand Prize. Taking some of the regular prizes does not bother me, but attempting to snag the Grand Prize seems a bit off. I realize that this is not necessarily logically consistent.

I decide to see if there is an actual Alice Goldberg in or around New York who will be a reasonable fit, so I start with a query to my favorite search engine. Soon I stumble on a ten year old blog post thanking Alice Goldberg for helping with a reunion of retired accountants. With help from the Internet Archive Wayback Machine I find the now dead webpage promoting the event and noting that anyone with questions could contact the organizers, one of whom was Alice Goldberg, giving their email address. Is this Alice Goldberg still alive? I can not find any online obituary. Is the email address still in use by Alice Goldberg? I hope so.

I tackle the really difficult part of letting someone know that they had won a contest they had never entered and that I am not trying to scam them. I compose an email which I hope will do the task. The email reads:

I have submitted the story in your name to the story contest, and you have won. I submitted the story from the email address agwriternyc@example.com. You can access that email via the web using your browser at http://mail.example.com and use the password which for security reasons I will send in another email in a few minutes.

So I send the email from the agwriternyc@example.com address to the Alice Goldberg email address hoping for the best and then after fifteen minutes I send the password. With all of this finished I put the matter out of my mind.

Out of mind did not work. Each day I check. The third day the news story and publicity photo appears on both the website and in a couple of newspapers. The photo shows a smiling older woman listed as Alice Goldberg holding a check and a plaque with a women who appears to be a younger version identified in the article as her daughter Consuela Goldberg. I notice the website has the ebook copies for sale as well as a link to a Print On Demand service if someone wants a paper edition.

Of course, I did not write the stories however I did have the idea of how to generate the stories and took the initiative to actually implement the idea so I do not fell bad about my sense of self-satisfaction. After purchasing and downloading the ebook I want the book in hard copy. I want to be able to sit and look over at my bookcase and see the book. However I am reluctant to order with shipment sent to me in Nigeria since that might be a big flashing arrow pointing to me. The Nigerian tax authorities love big flashing arrows and in my recent past are a couple of items which might not stand up to rigorous investigations by the tax authorities.

The Nigerian diaspora comes to mind. The uncle who runs the school where I had donated the test tokens has a cousin who operates a small convenience store in Brooklyn. I phone the uncle to get the contact info for his cousin and then use my mobile to send money to the uncle’s account sufficient to cover the cost of a dozen books and shipping. I contact the cousin and tell him his uncle has the money. I ask him if he is willing to buy a dozen of the books quickly and ship six copies to his uncle, where I will pick them up. The other six copies I tell him to sell in his store and keep the proceeds as a thank you for this assistance.

Two weeks later I go by the uncle’s home, pick up the books, have a nice conversation and leave him a box of red bean buns I bought at the bakery on the way over.

At home I open the box of books and just gaze at them for a moment. Then I take one copy from the box and check the table of contents. Yes, the story listing Alice Goldberg as author is first in the list. Well sort of first; since prior to the stories the list shows the preface and the three introductions since the editor and the three judges all wanted to have their say. Following the Goldberg entry the rest of the stories are arranged in alphabetical order by author’s last name. I check to verify that all four of the $300 entries are listed. I read a couple of the other stories, then I put the book in my bookcase prominently in the center of the top shelf.

The day after I pick up the books my curiosity leads me to check the agwriternyc email account to see if the password still works and if there is any message. In the email inbox is one unread message sent from agwriternyc to anwriternyc with the subject of ‘More Information Please’ and a cc to an email address which I so not recognize. The email reads:

This is not Alice Goldberg writing this email; this is her daughter Consuela Goldberg. My mother is in the hospital, so I am managing her email for her.

I am interested to know how you came to be helping my mother submit the story. This aspect of her life is something I know nothing about and would like to know more. Unfortunately my mother is too ill to answer questions. I have included my personal email address as a cc along with my name so with that you can verify that I am the daughter of Alice Goldberg. 


Consuela Goldberg

  I go to my local pub called Apeing The Apes, just one street over from my condo. I sit down with Guiness to ponder the situation. A Guiness’s worth of pondering leads me to the conclusion that I should either tell Consuela Goldberg the entire story or ignore her message. My walk home from the pub solidified my decision. Using one of my pseudonymous accounts I compose a message and send it to the agwriternyc@example.com address with a cc to the personal email address of Consuela Goldberg.

I explain that I am a computer professional living in Lagos, Nigeria; however I am only a prince if one traces back to a great-great-great-great-great-grandmother who was a cousin of an ancient Nigerian ruler. I had been rather surprised to see the contest rules did not specify the nationality of the persons making submissions and or that AI software was not allowed. So I had used AI software to generate some stories and enter them in the contest. I had expected to perhaps get one or two of the $300 prizes. Winning four  was a surprise so I kept $600 for myself, spent $300 for test tokens for poorer students and $300 for supplies for a medical clinic in a rural district. It was having one of the AI generated stories win the Grand Prize which had caught me up short so I decided to pass the prize on to a person whose name I had used since trying to claim the prize myself might cause me to come to the attention of various authorities, in particular the tax office.

I send the email and decide to get on with my life. And life for the next couple of weeks is generally good; the customer is very satisfied with their servers. Olalekan has fully recovered from Covid-30 and Darasimi is back home, so their children are no longer with their grandparents, who need a rest. My fiancee, Ayomide, has officially graduated and will be arriving back in Lagos soon. Then we will begin our wedding plans. The Covid-30 is getting under control. Saturday so I go for a brisk walk in the park.

Back home I take a shower and brew some coffee. With coffee in hand I go to my desk and check all of my pseudonymous email accounts. The account I had given to Consuela Goldberg in order to contact me has a new email in the inbox. I click on the email and read the message thanking me for the information and suggesting I read the story at the URL given in the email. The message concludes with the assurance that another email will follow in another day or so.

So I click on the URL and a well known online magazine website displays an article with the title of "The Story Of The Story" and the byline of Consuela Goldberg, it reads:

The past few weeks have been a mixture of grief and mystery.  A few weeks ago my mother entered the hospital suddenly going from reasonably good health to serious in just a day. I flew from Los Angeles to New York and rushed to the hospital. The doctors said that it was a bacterial infection in several organs and they thought the medications might slow the decline though the future was uncertain.

Long ago my mother gave me access to her email and other accounts just in case of such an emergency. Along with the expected emails from her friends and social groups I found a new message in her inbox about her winning a prize. At first I was thinking this was a scam even though I had heard of this contest and the organization running it was legitimate. The email was from some person unknown to me and indicated that my mother had won the contest with a story submitted from another email address, an address of which I was unaware, and account access information.

So I accessed the new email account. Just one email in the Sent messages folder, a copy of the submission to the contest with her story attached. In the Inbox was a single email from the contest sent the previous day, congratulating my mother on submitting the Grand Prize winning story and saying the contest sponsor needed a statement, a photo of the delivery of the plaque and a physical check for publicity purposes.

I double checked the email address and the phone number given in the email and these seem legitimate so I called. I informed the contest runners that my mother was very sick in the hospital and could not speak directly to them and that only family members were allowed onto the floor, however if they delivered the plaque and check to the hospital I would take the photo of my mother with the plaque and check.

The next day the contest representative delivered the plaque and check. With the assistant nurse helped me make sure Mother looked her best, and arranged her in the bed propped up on some pillows with a lovely shawl covering her hospital gown. I bend down next to her and put my arm around her shoulder and helped her hold the plaque and the check. The assistant nurse took a couple of photos with my mobile.

I emailed the best photo and again apologized that my mother’s illness precluded her speaking directly to give her statement. I told them when I had told my mother that her story had won the Grand Prize, she had squeezed my hand and her smile gleamed with a happiness that expressed a thousand words.

Which is absolutely true. In fact if you told my mother that the A Train was running two minutes late, she would smile and squeeze your hand. To be blunt her mental faculties were failing due to her medical situation and her common response to anything was to smile and squeeze your hand. I was never able to ask her about taking up writing as a hobby or even as a second career; all I could do was deposit the check.

Two days later my mother died peacefully. I was still puzzled about the story. My mother had been a typical New York secular Jew who had a successful career as an accountant and never had literary ambitions that I know of; although she was a great reader and encouraged me to read as I was growing up. Then a week later more information came to light, and I found that while the Grand Prize winning story was submitted in my mother’s name; my mother was not the author.

The information I was given indicated that the story was not the deep inner thoughts of a wonderful woman who had lived a long and interesting life. Instead it was one of a series of stories generated by AI software running on an array of computers in Nigeria. This information comes from the person who ran the software to generate the stories and who had sent in the submissions with names and email addresses configured to look like those of regular people. I do not know the identify of this Nigerian computer professional, I do not know their age, gender or much of anything else. All I know is that they ran the software which created that the grand prize winning story submitted in my mother’s name as well as four of the honorable mention stories. I do not know which four.

This person in Nigeria did point out to me that the rules of the contest did not specify that entries needed to be from New York or USA or anywhere in particular. The rules did not say Artificial Intelligence software was not eligible or more to the point that the contest was for homo-sapiens only. And certainly an author can adopt a pen name if they want. However stepping forward to collect the grand prize check was something which the person from Nigeria decided not to do. Instead they found a person with the name that matched the name under which the story was submitted, and thus my mother, Alice Goldberg the retired accountant, became Alice Goldberg the recipient of the Grand Prize.

When I informed the contest they were obviously surprised initially. Then the editor said this was a wonderful turn of events because it could be the basis of another contest inviting both story submissions from AI and human either as individuals or teams; plus essays on creativity, AI and the world of the future. I was told that details will be published soon for the next contest.

As for the prize money, the contest said to keep it because it was too much work to rewind the past and they wanted to focus on the next contest. My family is not wealthy, although we are comfortable and we realize that some are not as financially secure as we are. This is why a sum equal to all of the contest prize money won by the AI along with my personal contribution and also funds from my mother's estate will be the seed money for the Goldberg Fund for Young Writers to assist talented middle school and high school students who need financial assistance with academic related expenses as well as supporting other activities promoting literacy and writing. 

I sit for a few moments and then reread Consuela Goldberg’s story about the last days of her mother’s life and the creation of the charitable fund. Most of it makes sense; however I feel I am missing something. Maybe in the next email .

Two weeks later I do a check of my pseudonymous accounts and find another email from Consuela Goldberg. In the email she writes that her article telling the story of her mother and the contest has gone viral and has kicked off a wave of discussion about AI and humans, thus she is making a lot of money based on the ad revenue share with the magazine. Plus her name is in the news so she expects her social standing in the motion picture production world will jump up a notch. Since I  provided the material that she molded into the article she has decided to share the good fortune. She says that she has removed the prize money from the online payment account I had set up for her mother and refilled it with some of the proceeds from the money she  received from the article. She said I can do with it as I want, however she will be very happy if it goes to benefit medical care.

I check the payment account and am stunned at the amount, several times the amount of the grand prize from the contest. Again I work with my sister to decide what is the best use of the money for the clinic. The clinic can use a diagnostic sequencer for determining which virus are present in samples taken from a person arriving ill at the clinic. My sister sets up the purchase of a unit at a nice discount since the new model has been released and there is reduced interest in the old model. Darasimi makes sure the price includes the long-term warranty and the maintenance agreement along with the first year of consumables for the machine.

Most people outside the clinic never know about the machine. However a year later it helped identify a fever outbreak much sooner than if the samples have been to be sent from the clinic to Lagos as was the previous process. The fever outbreak is halted and many lives saved. The clinic workers are aware of a stainless steel plate attached to the front of the machine with the words "Thanks to the Goldberg family for their generosity" engraved on it.

The clinic flourishes and grows into a small hospital which helps the town grow into a small city with aspirations of becoming a proper regional center. However that is a different story.


End Of Year 2022

 I initially considered creating a long and detailed review of 2022 however on further reflection I decided on a more sparse post. One main reason is time and energy. There are so many complexities involved that I do not have the time or energy to do a worth deep dive. So I will list a few items as place holders and perhaps in a year or two or ten or a hundred I might get back to them.

For me 2022 started in a mostly positive manner. In November of 2021 I made my first airplane trip since the pandemic began; I flew to Los Angeles and spent some time at museums and at Loscon. In December 2021 I made a much longer trip to Washington DC where I had time for more museums and to attend Worldcon which had been postponed from the summer. With those two trip experiences and seeing the success of the vaccination and boost programs I had positive expectations for 2022. 

Then in February Russia invaded Ukraine. Certainly I and most people were glad that Putin did not get his wish for a quick takeover of Ukraine and the installation of a puppet regime.  Unfortunately there have been many killed and injured along with great destruction. While one might hope for an end to the conflict and Russia to withdraw, I think it is more likely this will be an ongoing conflict. Depressing as it sounds I think there is a 50% chance that the conflict will continue and there will be active fighting at this time next year.

On the domestic USA front there were several major events in 2022. In June the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade decision. Roe v Wade might not have been the best decision ever rendered in terms of the reasoning and articulation however for several decades it increased the individual liberty of women. Now Roe v Wade is overturned. One thing which struck me was how often we heard phrases like "settled law" when nominees for a SCOTUS position appeared before a Senate committee. So now we have increased hand wringing and moaning in some of the public commentators about the decline of the status in the rating polls. SCOTUS appears to sinking to the low levels already reached by both executive and legislative branches. One possible approach to the situation is to decrease the amount of interference the federal, state and local governments play in mandatory control over lives of people. Of course that means the authoritarians of all stripes will be dismayed because from my vantage point each authoritarian thinks their own authoritarianism is proper, just and legitimate.

Schools are back in operation and now there is a discussion about what policies worked and what policies did not work. One trend I see is that teacher unions lost some political clout and some positive status in the general public. Interest and enrollment in private schools, charter schools and home schooling appear to be on the upswing. There are also some politicians and some parents supporting laws like the "don't say gay" and similar restrictions on school curriculum. Perhaps this will open up a larger discussion about what is the purpose of education and how to best meet that purpose. Perhaps. But honestly I doubt if there will be a discussion using the tools of rationality and critical thinking in the coming year. It will likely take more than a year for all of the overblown rhetoric to clear out.

As I write this end of year note there is still a lot of political divide in the USA. I expect this political divide will continue for many reasons; a primary reason is how much political positions are based on loyalty to an ideology, a party or a politician instead of well researched data and critical thinking. I want to emphasis that I am not a member of the Republican party and I am not a member of the Democratic party, in fact I am not a member of any political party. And just so there no misunderstanding; I do not necessarily think all political parties are the same so I am not guilty of a naive "both sides" rhetoric; it is all much more complex and complicated.

I will conclude with my suggestion that the best path forward is to drop loyalty to a political party or loyalty to a religion and instead look toward benevolence, empathy, pan-critical rationalism, reason and critical thinking which I have discussed in other posts.



Review of the novel City Limits

 Review of the novel City Limits by Jim Peron


The novel opens by describing the situations of two recent High School graduates, Brian and Tony, in the context of their small rural Kansas town with the usual problems associated with small Kansas towns. Not to mention Brian's mother, Eunice, who is kindhearted but often misguided in how she interacts with Brian and Tony. However this novel is not an angst filled coming of age story set in Kansas, certainly the humor in the first chapter overshadows the angst. There is even humor in Brian and Tony deciding to relocate to San Francisco and their trip. The novel does not turn into a travelogue or road story although that might have been interesting. Nor is it a romantic comedy although during the novel there is both romance and comedy. The novel is about characters and life as they create and experience it.

It is in the San Francisco area that the other characters are introduced. And they are quite a bunch of characters. Stella encounters Brian and Tony soon after they arrive in San Francisco and it is with this encounter that the narrative jumps up a notch. From arranging for Brian and Tony to rent an apartment in the Castro to assisting them in acquiring suits for a job interview, Stella fulfills the role of older sister, mentor and also guide around San Francisco. The limo driver Anthony, his boss Mr. Santori and the daughter Elizabeth Santori soon follow in the narrative. Brian, Tony, Stella, and others try to avoid getting tangled up in their own minor machinations while working to unmask a major deception and scam against the ill, desperate and unsuspecting.

This novel references many actual events with a fictional but loving eye. And locations are described with just a bit of literary license however the locations are generally easily recognizable to those familiar with the area which adds to the texture of the narrative. I have lived in the Silicon Valley area for many decades and thus am familiar with the Bay Area and certainly San Francisco where I meet the author many years ago. One might easily image some of the events happening today such as Stella confronting the street evangelist. Or taking a ferry to Sausalito to interview for a job and being driven back in a limo.

There is much in the novel about being human; what it means to be part of a social circle, a family not of relatives but of chosen persons. And importantly the development of the individual; not the infantile pseudo-individualism one typically associates with a toddler; instead the honest, benevolent, rational, and mature individual which one ideally develops into as they become an adult. The novel covers the time span of only about a year yet one sees Brian and Tony develop and grow in their new home and with Stella and all of the others. It is in this sense that if I had to use only one phrase to characterize this novel I would call it life affirming. 


End of year 2021

The year 2021 as been something of a ride from the hopeful distribution of Covid-19 vaccines to the surge of first the Delta variant and then the Omicron variant in the last few months of the year.

I obtained my first Covid-19 inoculation on February 16 2021, it was Moderna. On March 19 I received by second Moderna inoculation on March 19 2021. My Moderna booster was September 13. In each case there was the expected injection site soreness and the common post vaccination symptoms for about 36 to 48 hours. The probability of a couple of days discomfort for me certainly beats the probability of a person such as me having Covid-19 and being in the hospital or worse. The discomfort clearly was better than the alternative both for me personally and for society as a whole.

A book which vividly describes the alternative is Year of the Nurse: A Covid-19 Pandemic Memoir written by Cassandra Alexander who is a Registered Nurse working in Intensive Care in a Bay Area hospital and who may be familiar to some for her other role as a writer of paranormal romance fiction. The book starts in early 2020 and chronicles in vivid detail what actually was happening in the hospital Intensive Care ward and general in the realm of medical care in the hospital. The book is very much a plain spoken account.  The medical procedures are described in detail, the agony and sometimes death are described, the severe impact on the medical staff if detailed. This is a book which I recommend to those you need to be told about the impact of the first year of Covid-19. And if in reading the book the reader finds it necessary to put it down occasionally thus reading it in small amounts of the span of weeks, that is when I would suggest remembering those medical person who lived the experience day after day, week after week, month after month.

The author has a webpage about the book at:
and there is a link to a page about where to purchase the book, it seems that the ebook is available at almost all ebook sales sites.

Something which really needs emphasis is that the Covid-19 vaccine is not just for the protection of the individual, it is also and I think more importantly for the protection of others particularly those with underlying medical conditions which preclude them from being vaccinated. I have, and I suspect most people, have in their social circle at least one person who has a medical condition which prevent vaccination. And even if you do not know the person, there are many people for whom catching Covid-19 would lead to serious illness, probably with long term harmful outcomes and possibly death. So think about others and get vaccinated if you can.

In September and October there were some venues which opened up to the public after being closed for over a year. One such venue was the City Lights Theater in San Jose California. City Lights Theater stages some very fine plays. In March 2020 just days before the world premier of a play titled Coded everything went into isolation. The play written by San Jose State University professor Kirsten Brandt. In October 2021 the play was able to open at City Lights and I went. There was a mandatory vaccination and masking policy for the audience. Typically City Light Theater performances are mostly sold out however the performance I attended was only about a third of normal attendance.  The play is about women in technology specifically the game creation industry. This play is really really good and very much worth seeing. The cast was all women and they gave a tremendous performance.

I was very lucky to see the play when I did because just a few days later I received an email from City Lights saying that part of the production had Covid-19 symptoms and a positive test. So the remainder of the performances were cancelled. Fortunately they had made a video of a previous performance so during the rest of the scheduled run the video could be purchased for streaming. Even though I had already seen the performance live I was so impressed that I paid to see it again via the streamed video. Unfortunately the streaming arrangement was for a limited time just to finish out the scheduled run so  it is no longer available. However if you get a change to see it performed I very strongly recommend it.

Perhaps 2022 will be better than 2021, of course perhaps not. In either case we humans can continue on pursuing science, understanding the challenges of how our physical world is changing, respecting other people and with attention to being benevolent and kind. 

Be happy and stay healthy.


End of Year 2020

 At the end of  year one often sees blog entries or social media posts giving a personal account of the year which is ending.  I considered that approach for this year since 2020 was a year of some unexpected difficulties which thanks to the competence of modern medicine are being addressed.  However I decided to not be overly personal since 2020 was a year of such large scale events that devoting a blog post to the my stay-at-home or medical or other issues just was not a compelling idea.  Therefore I will give a few thoughts about me observations of 2020 on a larger scale.

In any year it is typical to see some humans acting in a manner which I would consider as worthy of praise. And in any year it is also typical to see some humans acting in a manner which I would most definitely not consider worth of praise. And occasionally the same humans fall into both categories at various times. My perception of the year 2020 is that the stresses combined to magnify both types of behaviors.

The SARS-COV-2 virus and the associated disease Covid-19 had their beginning in 2019 however really started to impact the world in 2020. The efforts of the medical professionals to treat those with Covid-19 and the rapid development of vaccines are both a big plus.  Ending 2020 with the vaccines being administered to front line workers seems to be resulting in many people looking at 2021 with increased hope.  Unfortunately there was some very disappointing behavior in 2020.  There were adults who would not properly wear a mask for no other apparent reason than that they just did not feel like it.  I live in the Silicon Valley and most people in this area participate in the behavior one would expect of decent adults and properly wear a mask.  There are a few who do not however they are a distinction minority. Fortunately the local pharmacies, medical offices, and food stores all have masks policies.

Another item related to Covid-19 is the poor behavior of some politicians.  The ones who would go gathering at restaurant after telling everyone else to stay at home.  And unfortunately there were politicians, pundits and even some persons in the medical field that failed to properly distinguish between they were making recommendations based on really solid evidence versus when it was just their best recommendation based on preliminary data or no data at all.  I can imagine that they felt compelled to say things in an effort to increase compliance with their recommendations.  The problem is that exaggerations have a habit of discrediting the very tools and approaches one needs to use to address a serious epidemic.  It is really fine and should be encouraged to say "I do not know" when one is still working on a problem. To just say "I do not know but based on experience and what little we do know here are some recommendations" can go a long way towards maintain the credibility the scientific community.  

Also the CDC and FDA agencies of the Federal government of the USA which were supposed to be handling the initial response botched things early on when it came to the test kits to detect who was infected.  This has been well documented in major publications such as the Washington Post so there is no need to rehash the details here.  However when the pandemic is over it might be a good idea to do a thorough re-evaluation of the CDC and FDA in order to remove the rules and processes which lead them be late to have testing available and to initially put out tests which did not work while at the same time labs around the world in other countries had tests weeks ahead of the USA.

The November 2020 election results show Biden/Harris as the winning ticket. Perhaps 2021 will be the start of better times in the realm of politics.  And I will point out that I was not a Biden/Harris supporter and I also was not a Trump/Pence supporter. I do not say that expect the Biden/Harris administration to be as bad as the Trump/Pence administration however I do not have high hopes for Biden/Harris.  I find there to be a lot of authoritarian tendencies in both the Trump/Pence policies and what I expect will be the Biden/Harris policies. We should not forget that much of the problems that we face today are the result of terrible policies such as the  War on Drugs and the militarization of the police. And the record of Harris is very problematic. So is it possible that Biden/Harris will not behave like over zealous authoritarians? Possible however I would not bet a nickle on it.  

A bunch of politicians are now starting a clamor about repealing Section 230.  Of course reasonable voices who understand the situation point out what a terrible idea that would be. Will the clueless politicians listen? We should all remember a few years back when the SESTA-FOSTA legislation was proposed and reasonable voices who understood the situation said the legislation was a really bad idea which would cause a lot of harm. The clueless politicians passed it anyway and the harm that was predicted has come to pass. Let us not forget that Harris was a co-sponsor of the legislation which has caused great harm. I will not be surprised if Biden and Harris continue to attempt to cause more harm in 2021.



A Note About Politics And Tribes

 As I write this an election season is upon the USA.  In observing the various races and in particular observing the race for POTUS I notice the too common phenomena of tribal behavior. I use the term tribal behavior to indicate the tendency to either support or oppose an idea based on the identity of the persons or persons proposing and supporting the idea rather than on the merits of the idea.  Recent examples include the Affordable Care Act which was based in part on the ideas of Governor Romney who was a Republican yet is now denounced by many Republican politicians. Or consider tariffs and budge deficits.  So does the anti-war movement often go into hibernation if a Democrat is in the office of POTUS as some have alleged?

I am not the first to make these observations.  I do not expect a change anytime soon and I would not be surprised if the trend continues and possibly gets worse. My opinion is that what is needed is a deep and serious improvement in the ability of individuals to think critically about their own ideas with a view to discarding falsified ideas.  This is different from the justification approach of searching around using the filter of retaining whatever supports one's current position and discarding whatever does not support one's current position. Unfortunately I do not see a shift away from the Justification approach in near future.