Philosopher Argued Artificial Intelligence Would Never Reach Human Intelligence

(p. A28) Professor Dreyfus became interested in artificial intelligence in the late 1950s, when he began teaching at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He often brushed shoulders with scientists trying to turn computers into reasoning machines.
. . .
Inevitably, he said, artificial intelligence ran up against something called the common-knowledge problem: the vast repository of facts and information that ordinary people possess as though by inheritance, and can draw on to make inferences and navigate their way through the world.
“Current claims and hopes for progress in models for making computers intelligent are like the belief that someone climbing a tree is making progress toward reaching the moon,” he wrote in “Mind Over Machine: The Power of Human Intuition and Expertise in the Era of the Computer” (1985), a book he collaborated on with his younger brother Stuart, a professor of industrial engineering at Berkeley.
His criticisms were greeted with intense hostility in the world of artificial intelligence researchers, who remained confident that success lay within reach as computers grew more powerful.
When that did not happen, Professor Dreyfus found himself vindicated, doubly so when research in the field began incorporating his arguments, expanded upon in a second edition of “What Computers Can’t Do” in 1979 and “What Computers Still Can’t Do” in 1992.
. . .
For his 2006 book “Philosophy: The Latest Answers to the Oldest Questions,” Nicholas Fearn broached the topic of artificial intelligence in an interview with Professor Dreyfus, who told him: “I don’t think about computers anymore. I figure I won and it’s over: They’ve given up.”

For the full obituary, see:
WILLIAM GRIMES. “Hubert L. Dreyfus, Who Put Computing In Its Place, Dies at 87.” The New York Times (Wednesday, May 3, 2017): A28.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date MAY 2, 2017, and has the title “Hubert L. Dreyfus, Philosopher of the Limits of Computers, Dies at 87.”)

Dreyfus’s last book on the limits of artificial intelligence, was:
Dreyfus, Hubert L. What Computers Still Can’t Do: A Critique of Artificial Reason. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1992.

Plenty of Good Blue-Collar Jobs

(p. A1) ELKHART, Ind.–The self-proclaimed RV capital of the world gives a glimpse of what the American economy looks like when operating at full tilt.
High-school students around here skip college for factory jobs that offer great pay and benefits. For-hire signs sprout like roadside weeds. And workers are so flush that car dealers can’t keep new pickups on the lot.
At the same time, the strains are showing. Employers can’t hang on to employees, and house prices are zooming. The worker shortage prompted a local Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant to offer $150 signing bonuses. A McDonald’s failed to open for lunch last fall because managers couldn’t corral enough hands at $8 an hour to serve the lines waiting at the door.
No place in the U.S. has seen a labor-market turnaround like this metropolitan region of 110,000 workers, a mix of blue-collar whites, Mexican immigrants and Amish. “It’s like 1955,” said Michael Hicks, a Ball State University economist. “If you show up and have minimal literacy skills, you can find a job here.”

For the full story, see:
Bob Davis. “Economy’s Future Plays Out in Rust Belt.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, April 6, 2018): A1 & A9.
(Note: the online version of the story was updated April 13 [sic], 2018, and has the title “The Future of America’s Economy Looks a Lot Like Elkhart, Indiana.”)

Google Further Reduces Small Payments to Content Creators

YouTube is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Google.

(p. A15) SAN FRANCISCO — The authorities believe a woman who shot three people at YouTube’s headquarters before killing herself on Tuesday [April 3, 2018] was angered by the social media outlet’s policies.
While the police did not specifically say what those policies were, they likely had to do with a concept called “demonetization.”
. . .
One of those creators was Nasim Najafi Aghdam, the woman the police said had shot YouTube employees in San Bruno, Calif. She frequently posted videos to several YouTube channels and had become increasingly angry over the money she was making from them.
“My Revenue For 300,000 Views Is $0.10?????” Ms. Aghdam wrote on her website, while calling YouTube “a dictatorship.”
. . .
Video creators take a share of the money from ads running before or alongside their videos. But YouTube has been raising the bar on qualifications for running ads.
Last April, the company said it would set a requirement for 10,000 cumulative lifetime views before allowing videos to gain ads. In January, the company raised that requirement to 4,000 hours of watch time in the past year and 1,000 subscribers.

For the full story, see:
NELLIE BOWLES and JACK NICAS. “YouTube Complaints From Attacker Echoed Fight Over Ad Dollars.” The New York Times (Thursday, April 5, 2018): A15.
(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 4, 2018, and has the title “YouTube Attacker’s Complaints Echoed Fight Over Ad Dollars.”)

Vending Machines for Cars in China

(p. B2) GUANGZHOU, China– Eric Zhou is interested in buying a Ford Kuga sport-utility vehicle. So last week, he picked up the car for a three-day test drive from a vending machine.
Mr. Zhou never visited a dealership or spoke to a salesperson. He booked the test drive online, then showed up at a service center where employees can identify would-be buyers using facial-recognition technology. His SUV was then delivered from the eight-story “vending machine”–essentially an automated parking garage.
“This is so much more efficient and convenient than traditional dealerships,” said Mr. Zhou, 38 years old.
It’s the first of several such car-vending centers that Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. plans to open across China this year–part of the company’s latest effort to translate its success in online retailing to the physical shopping world.

For the full story, see:
Liza Lin. “Car-Vending Machine Is Rolled Out.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, April 6, 2018): B2.
(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 5, 2018, and has the title “To Buy a Car in China, Hit the Vending Machine.”)

Mark Twain’s “Desperately Striving Entrepreneurship”

(p. A13) For a novelist with such a tart view of human character, Twain’s gullibility is hard to fathom. No matter his dismal track record, he always appraised the next opportunity as a sure thing. The two fields he knew about, books and newspapers, caused him more grief than any other. He had success with Charles L. Webster & Co., the publisher he founded, which issued the memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant. But after that runaway hit, he published a string of lemons.
Even worse was his decade-long investment in a typesetting machine, the Paige Compositor, which, Twain noted, would be faster than a human typesetter and “does not get drunk” and “does not join the Printer’s Union.” But its inventor proved to be a hopeless perfectionist, his machine with its thousands of parts a tribute to complexity gone mad. Ultimately, Twain invested $175,000–an immense sum. With the mogul Rogers guiding him, the author transferred his assets to his wife and put his publishing company into bankruptcy. Only by embarking on a world-wide speaking tour was he able to pay his debts.
Mr. Crawford doesn’t seem curious about whether Twain’s financial capers informed his writing. He has nothing notable to say, for instance, on “The Prince and the Pauper,” a wry commentary on the sort of class envy to which Twain himself was susceptible. Nor does Mr. Crawford attempt to reconcile the conventional view of Twain as a folksy raconteur with the evidence of his desperately striving entrepreneurship.

For the full review, see:
Roger Lowenstein. “BOOKSHELF; A Pudding Head and His Money; Given the novelist’s tart view of human character, the financial misadventures of Mark Twain are hard to fathom.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, October 27, 2017): A13.
(Note: the online version of the review has the date Oct. 26, 2017, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; Review: A Pudding Head and His Money; Given the novelist’s tart view of human character, the financial misadventures of Mark Twain are hard to fathom.”)

The book under review, is:
Crawford, Alan Pell. How Not to Get Rich: The Financial Misadventures of Mark Twain. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017.

Discovery of Several Centuries Worth of Rare-Earth Metals

(p. A13) TOKYO–Japan has hundreds of years’ worth of rare-earth metal deposits in its waters, according to new research that reflects Tokyo’s concern about China’s hegemony over minerals used in batteries and electric vehicles.
The deposits were found in the Pacific Ocean seabed near remote Minamitori Island, about 1,150 miles southeast of Tokyo. Extracting them would likely be costly, but resource-poor Japan is pushing ahead with research in hopes of getting more control over next-generation technologies and weapon systems.
A roughly 965-square-mile seabed near the island contains more than 16 million tons of rare-earth oxides, estimated to hold 780 years’ worth of the global supply of yttrium, 620 years’ worth of europium, 420 years’ worth of terbium and 730 years’ worth of dysprosium, according to a study published this week in Nature Publishing Group’s Scientific Reports.
. . .
In 2010, China pushed rare-earth prices up as much as 10 times by cutting its export quota on 17 elements by 40% from the previous year. It said it wanted to clean up a polluting industry, but the move left Japan seeking more independence from prices dictated by its neighbor. Japanese manufacturers have since lowered the amount of rare-earth metals in batteries and motors.

For the full story, see:
Mayumi Negishi. “In Rare-Earth Find, Hope of an Edge Against China.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, April 12, 2018): A13.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 11, 2018, and has the title “Japan Hopes Rare-Earth Find Will Give It an Edge Against China.”)

The study mentioned above, is:
Takaya, Yutaro, Kazutaka Yasukawa, Takehiro Kawasaki, Koichiro Fujinaga, Junichiro Ohta, Yoichi Usui, Kentaro Nakamura, Jun-Ichi Kimura, Qing Chang, Morihisa Hamada, Gjergj Dodbiba, Tatsuo Nozaki, Koichi Iijima, Tomohiro Morisawa, Takuma Kuwahara, Yasuyuki Ishida, Takao Ichimura, Masaki Kitazume, Toyohisa Fujita, and Yasuhiro Kato. “The Tremendous Potential of Deep-Sea Mud as a Source of Rare-Earth Elements.” Scientific Reports 8, no. 1 (April 10, 2018): 1-8.

Clues to How Macron Achieves Major Free Market Reforms in France

(p. A9) PARIS — The plush red velvet seats of France’s National Assembly are filled with lawmakers who owe just about everything to President Emmanuel Macron.
Three-quarters of the 577 members are brand new, swept into power in the wake of his election last year. More than 60 percent are in his camp. Nearly one-third have never held public office, and 38 were under the age of 31 when they entered office.
. . .
On Thursday [March 22, 2018], tens of thousands of railway workers, teachers and air traffic controllers went on strike across France to protest salary freezes for civil servants and Mr. Macron’s pledge to cut 120,000 public-sector jobs and introduce merit-based pay and use more private contractors.
. . .
The assembly has become a showcase of Mr. Macron’s forceful powers of persuasion and the ways he wants to reshape and update all of France.
“There’s been a complete cultural shock,” said Jean-Paul Delevoye, a senior official in Mr. Macron’s government who helped pick his candidates for Parliament.
“We’ve completely overturned the sociology of the assembly,” he added.
Diet Coke replaced wine as the most popular item at the assembly’s bar. Wine sales had plummeted, stunning the barmen, though they are creeping back up under the influence of long days. Mr. Macron’s acolytes sit through them, unlike their predecessors.
Before the rule for a deputy was, arrive Tuesday morning and go home Wednesday evening. Now, many say, Mr. Macron’s deputies come for the whole week.
So assiduous are they that “now, it’s hard to find a spot at the restaurant, that’s what strikes me,” said Brigitte Bourguignon, another ex-Socialist who joined Mr. Macron.
Among the youthful deputies, common positions are worked out in advance on applications like Telegram, befuddling the old-timers. There is little patience for them in any case.
. . .
Parliament was barely to be seen last year when Mr. Macron forced through changes to France’s rigid labor code to allow companies more flexibility in negotiating directly with workers, and to limit payouts after layoffs.
Instead, the president proceeded by special decree, using a rarely used procedure that allowed the National Assembly merely to vote thumbs up or down on the labor reforms — it voted up — but without the power to change or even discuss them.
Then, Mr. Macron rammed through the lifting of a tax on wealth, insisting that it was necessary to free capital for investment. Many economists agreed. But apart from a few opposition whimpers there was hardly any debate.
In coming weeks he proposes to take on the railway workers — the bĂȘte noir of many a French government — again by special decree. Mr. Macron wants to end the hiring-for-life, early retirement and enhanced medical insurance that have contributed to a whopping deficit. But he doesn’t necessarily want Parliament debating it.
. . .
For his dedicated supporters in Parliament, subordination is not an issue. Asked whether he had been in disagreement with the government, Mr. Potterie replied: “Ah, no. No. At the margins maybe. But for the moment, no.”
In the National Assembly, “it’s true that we don’t challenge the government,” he added. “It’s because we were elected to carry out their program.”
That sense of purpose runs deep.
“It’s not true that we are simply puppets,” insisted Ms. Bourguignon, the former Socialist. “We’ve got a government that reforms, and we’ve got to follow the government.”

For the full story, see:
ADAM NOSSITER. “Macron Fills the Role Of French Strongman.” The New York Times (Friday, March 23, 2018): A9.
(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 22, 2018, and has the title “Emmanuel Macron Becomes France’s Answer to Strongman Populism.” The online version says that the article appeared on p. A13 of the New York edition. It appeared on p. A9 of my National edition.)