Happy Labor Day!
We’re off this weekend — stay safe and eat some amazing food. And make sure to consume all the good stuff before the Burning Man folks return.
Podcast: Lt. Gen. Jack Shanahan on rebuilding trust between Silicon Valley and the Pentagon
As the birthplace of semiconductors and computers, Silicon Valley has historically been a major center of the defense industry. That changed with the Vietnam War, when antiwar protesters burned down computing centers at multiple universities to oppose the effort in Southeast Asia, as well as the rise of countercultural entrepreneurs who largely determined the direction of the internet age.
Today, there are once again growing ties between tech companies and the Pentagon as the need for more sophisticated AI tools for defense becomes paramount. But as controversies like Google’s launch of Project Maven attest, there remains a wide chasm of distrust between many software engineers and the Pentagon’s goals for a robust defense of the American homeland.
In this episode of “Securities”, Josh Wolfe and I sit down with retired lieutenant general Jack Shanahan to talk about rebuilding the trust needed between these two sides. Before retirement, Shanahan was the inaugural director of the Pentagon’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, a hub for connecting frontier AI tech into all aspects of the Defense Department’s operations. We talk about the case of Project Maven and its longer-term implications, the ethical issues that lie at the heart of AI technologies in war and defense, as well as some of the lessons learned from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine the past year.
- If you want a long but incredible holiday read, Patrick Radden Keefe at The New Yorker profiles art dealer Larry Gagosian in "How Larry Gagosian Reshaped the Art World.” The intricacies of the dealer business, coupled with an acute social and business intelligence, has allowed Gagosian to carve a new and so-far-unmatched path to the stratosphere: “Unlike many luxury items, art works tend to be unique objects—'one of one,' in the parlance of the trade. The designer Marc Jacobs told me, ‘Larry sells things that aren’t for sale.’ Typically, the most coveted items become available only when the previous owner dies, or gets divorced, or goes bankrupt. An élite dealer like Gagosian, however, can sometimes wrest away a treasure by offering the owner—ideally someone he knows—a whopping premium. If you want the right kind of Jasper Johns to round out your collection, you enlist Gagosian to help you find one hanging on somebody else’s wall, then make the owner an offer he can’t refuse. If he does refuse, double the offer. Then, if necessary, double it again. It is the super-rich equivalent of ordering off-menu.”
- Our summer associate Ken Bui highlights Lingling Wei and Stella Yifan Xie’s analysis of China’s economy in the WSJ, which emphasizes conforming to the new political environment even at the cost of economic performance. “But top leader Xi Jinping has deep-rooted philosophical objections to Western-style consumption-driven growth, people familiar with decision-making in Beijing say. Xi sees such growth as wasteful and at odds with his goal of making China a world-leading industrial and technological powerhouse, they say.”
- Grace Isford recommends a new Arxiv paper from a group of researchers on "Reinforced Self-Training (ReST) for Language Modeling.” “While ReST is a general approach applicable to all generative learning settings, we focus on its application to machine translation. Our results show that ReST can substantially improve translation quality, as measured by automated metrics and human evaluation on machine translation benchmarks in a compute and sample-efficient manner.”
- With greater heat globally, Niall Ferguson argues that it’s time to reconsider the summer vacation in “The Death of Summer.” But the heat is practically omnipresent, and as David S. Jones emphasizes in the Boston Review, "Killer Heat Waves Are Coming.” “The trouble is not ignorance: we know that heat can kill. Humans have recognized the threat for millennia, and over the last two centuries they have scrutinized heat wave mortality to understand who is most at risk and to develop strategies to prevent those deaths. Still people die.”
- Finally, the replication crisis has undermined the foundations of science (just this week, Stanford’s now-former president Marc Tessier-Lavigne retracted two of his papers on the last day of his presidency). Two popular articles, one on behavioral psychology by Adam Mastroianni and the other on history by Anton Howes, show that the damage has reached all fields of human knowledge. “If the lack of replication or reproducibility is a problem in science, in history nobody even thinks about it in such terms. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anyone systematically looking at the same sources as another historian and seeing if they’d reach the same conclusions.”
That’s it, folks. Have questions, comments, or ideas? This newsletter is sent from my email, so you can just click reply.