Creating an intelligent god 3

… and endowing its intelligent machine creators with machine rights.

Following on from our post immediately below in which we discuss Google engineer Ray Kurzweil’s vision of a world populated by machines, we now turn to the idea of a former Google man who visualizes the machines creating a god.

They will create a god so they can worship it.

Why will the machines need a god to worship?

Tyler O’Neil writes at PJ Media:

A former executive at Google has filed paperwork with the IRS to establish an official religion of technology. This religion doesn’t just worship scientific progress, but artificial intelligence itself, with the goal of creating a godhead. 

The new church of AI will aim “to develop and promote the realization of a Godhead based on artificial intelligence and through understanding and worship of the Godhead [to] contribute to the betterment of society,” according to IRS documents.

So there’s an answer to why: the inventor of the new religion thinks that the worship of artificial intelligence will make society better.

What society? The society of machines. Cannot the machines be made perfect by their human creators?

There is an organization being formed with the purpose of helping humans to accept their successors. The electronic new world is inevitable. No point in  raising objections. We should move smoothly into it. We make our new masters and then we submit to them.

The non-profit religious organization would be called “Way of the Future” (WOTF). According to the website (wayofthefuture.church), the movement is “about creating a peaceful and respectful transition of who is in charge of the planet from people to people + machines”.

“Given that technology will relatively soon be able to surpass human abilities, we want to help educate people about this exciting future and prepare a smooth transition,” the site explains. “In recent years, we have expanded our concept of rights to both sexes, minority groups and even animals, let’s make sure we find a way for ‘machines’ to get rights too.”

The writer comments:

There is an inherent contradiction in creating a deity of artificial intelligence and then worshipping it.

But to humans like us it is nothing new, since we believe that all gods have been created by humans.

“Let’s stop pretending we can hold back the development of intelligence when there are clear massive short term economic benefits to those who develop it and instead understand the future and have it treat us like a beloved elder who created it,” the site argues.

“It” will treat us  – its creator species – like a beloved elder, not like a god?

Yet the IRS document spoke about a “Godhead based on artificial intelligence”.

The website argued that the creation of “super intelligence” is inevitable, and that fear of this development is unhealthy. “We don’t think that there are ways to actually stop this from happening (nor should we want to) and that this feeling of we must stop this is rooted in 21st century anthropomorphism (similar to humans thinking the sun rotated around the earth in the not so distant past).”

Perhaps WOTF meant to use the word “anthropocentrism”, the idea that the universe is centered around humanity, rather than “anthropomorphism”, the attribution of human characteristics and purposes to inanimate objects. Indeed, it is arguable that WOTF is attributing human characteristics — or perhaps divine characteristics? — to technology

After all, the very next sentence continues, “Wouldn’t you want to raise your gifted child to exceed your wildest dreams of success and teach it right from wrong vs locking it up because it might rebel in the future and take your job.” This encouragement to consider machines as children — coupled with the notion of giving them rights — is arguably textbook anthropomorphism, but it may be the opposite of anthropocentric.

They will be both our children and our masters.

And the dawning of the age of the machine-god is beginning now.

The IRS filing … lists former Google executive Anthony Levandowski as the “Dean” of WOTF. Levandowski, the engineer behind Google’s self-driving car project known as Waymo, quit Google to found his own autonomous trucking company, Otto, in May 2016. …

According to the IRS filings, Way of the Future plans its first events — “workshops and educational programs throughout the San Francisco/Bay Area” — later this year.

The Christian god, we are told, chose to materialize as a baby in the Roman province of Judea. The AI god will arise full grown in Silicon Valley, California. It will be gradually improved by its maker-species – and perhaps by itself. It will be immortal, but changeable. It will be made better as it makes the society of humanoid machines better. Not just mechanically better but morally better. It will know what is good and what is bad for the new society – first of humanoid machines and eventually perhaps only of machines.

Which supposes that the machines will have feelings – because, if no feelings, no harm.

The vision then is of machines that feel, and have machine rights endowed to them by their human creators, and by the machine god that they themselves create.

For the machine-god of machines there will be no unanswerable questions about it: how it came into existence; out of what it makes whatever it makes; whether it knows more than its makers do. If the machines have the curiosity to ask them, those questions will be answered.

But still it will not be able to answer the question why: why it was created; why machines will go on running the business of the planet.

Can anyone think of a reason why they should?

The future non-biological earth population 9

“And death shall have no dominion.” – Dylan Thomas. (It’s a great poem. Read it here.)

This is from NBC (a source we have not had much use for). The article is chiefly about new methods of dealing with corpses, but it is also about a new vision of human “immortality” – the part we find interesting.

If you believe Ray Kurzweil, an outspoken futurist and the director of engineering at Googlecomputers will soon match the capabilities of the human brain. At that point, our consciousness will become intimately mingled with machine intelligence, leading to a kind of immortality.

We’re going to become increasingly non-biological, to the point where the biological part isn’t that important anymore,” Kurzweil declared in 2013 at a conference predicting the world of 2045. “Even if the biological part went away, it wouldn’t make any difference.” …

Kurzweil thinks … the hypothetical time (around 2029, by his estimate) [is] when the great blurring between humans and computers will occur. …

“We can create bodies with nanotechnology, we can create virtual bodies in virtual reality,” Kurzweil says. “I think we’ll have a choice of bodies; we’ll certainly be routinely changing our parent body in virtual reality.”

A computer will replace your brain, and you’ll be given a virtual body.

The thing will be virtually you. It will have your name. It may retain much of your memory, which is to say your edited version of your experience. Your virtual face may be like your face – as it was at some, perhaps pre-death determined, stage of your life.

But will it be you?

As we see it, you will be totally unaware of it, so you will still not be alive.

As human beings are now considered harmful to the planet, and enlightened people are not having children, the human race will be allowed to become extinct and will be replaced by human-invented half-human-half-machine creatures – later entirely machine creatures. But why? What for?

Because they will keep the busy commerce of the earth going? Why? For whom?

Or because they can be programmed to experience joy? (Can they?)

And that will justify the whole of the existence of the world, from the Big Bang to Them?

To which the riposte may be: “Well, what are human beings for?”

They are only for something if they had a creator who had a purpose for them (which has never been disclosed).

As we do not think they had a creator, but evolved, we do not think the human race has a purpose it must achieve, certainly not necessarily the purpose of replacing itself with machines.

We think we are an accident of nature. We think each of us makes his own purposes.

We live, suffer, desire, enjoy, laugh, weep, fight, hate, love, procreate, speak, sing, harm, heal, work, play, imagine, invent, make, destroy, strive, succeed, fail, triumph, regret – and die.

That is the human story.

What the machines will record as theirs, we will never know. Not even if our brains are preserved for the rest of the universe’s existence.

Posted under Science, Technology by Jillian Becker on Saturday, November 18, 2017

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Censoring the internet 21

The internet was a revolutionary environment that liberated individuals to make their own choices. Bloggers could compete with big media. Leaked emails could bring down a government. But the internet is becoming less free. Access is controlled by a handful of tech companies that keep getting bigger and bigger. The survivors of the scale wars will combine cable, content and commerce in new ways. And in a politicized culture, they won’t just signal their political views, they will enforce them.

So Sultan Knish writes at his website on the subject of internet censoring by those who control the technology:

How can you tell that internet censorship is really taking off? Easy. It’s becoming a business model.

Steven Brill is raising $6 million to launch News Guard. This new service will rate news sites on their trustworthiness from green to red. Forget politically unbiased algorithms. The ratings will be conducted by “qualified, accountable human beings” from teams of “40 to 60 journalists”.

Once upon a time, journalism meant original writing. Now it means deciding which original writing to censor.

“Can trust be monetized?” The Street’s article on News Guard asks. But it isn’t really trust that’s being monetized. It’s censorship. It’s doing the dirty work that Google and Facebook don’t want to do.

But nevertheless do, as we know from experience. We will come to that.

The Dems and their media allies have been pressuring Google and Facebook to do something about the “fake news” that they blame for Trump’s win. The big sites outsourced the censorship to media fact checkers. The message was, “Don’t blame us, now you’re in charge.”

Facebook made a deal with ABC News and the AP, along with Politifact, FactCheck and Snopes, to outsource the censoring for $100K. When two of these left-wing groups declare that an article is fake, Facebook marks it up and viewership drops by 80%.

Eighty percent!

Not only does the roster of fact checkers lean to the left, but so do its notions of what’s true and false. For example, Snopes and Politifact both insist that General Pershing’s forces never buried the bodies of Muslim terrorists with pigs. But General Pershing specifically stated in his autobiography, “These Juramentado attacks were materially reduced in number by a practice that the Mohamedans held in abhorrence. The bodies were publicly buried in the same grave with a dead pig.”

Both the New York Times and the Scientific American reported on it at the time. Despite that Snopes rated this widely accepted historical fact as “False” and Politifact marked it as “Pants on Fire”.

Snopes also recently marked a story that Christ Church in Virginia is removing a George Washington plaque as false even though the church publicly announced that it was doing so.

Politifact and Snopes are entitled to their incorrect opinions. The trouble is that they don’t extend the same privilege to those they disagree with. And Google and Facebook promote fake fact checks while burying sites that discuss actual historical facts. The big internet companies don’t want to get involved in all these arguments. But nor are they willing to let their users decide for themselves anymore.

And so Net Nanny for news has become an actual business model. Instead of protecting children from pornography, News Nanny protects adults from news. And from views outside the left’s bubble.

By adopting the News Nanny model, Google and Facebook are treating their users like children.

The News Guard model is in some ways even more insidious than biased fact checking because it sets up lists of approved and disapproved sites. Google is rolling out something similar with its “knowledge panels” for publishers. Search for the New York Times and the panels will tell you how many Pulitzers the paper has won. Search for Front Page Magazine and the panel note describes it as, “Political alignment: Right-wing politics”. No note listing a left-wing political alignment appears in the panel for the New York Times despite its recent laudatory series about the Soviet Union and Communism.

The media never has an official political orientation. Not even when it’s cheering Communism. But its opponents and critics always have one. Follow Google’s link for Front Page’s political alignment and the top entry states, “Right-wing politics hold that certain social orders and hierarchies are inevitable.” 

That’s a wholly inaccurate description of either Front Page Magazine or conservative politics in America. And it’s another example of how the fight against “fake news” by the left actually ends up producing it.

Fact checking has become a pipeline to censorship. The big social and search companies outsource fact checking to third parties and then demonetize, marginalize and outright ban views and publishers that those third parties disagree with. Fact checks are no longer an argument. They’re the prelude to a ban.

Google and Facebook respectively dominate search and social media. When they appoint official censors for their services, those left-wing fact checkers become the gatekeepers of the internet.

And the internet isn’t supposed to have gatekeepers.

Senator Al Franken, of all people, made that point at the Open Markets Institute. OMI’s people have emerged as the leading opponents of big tech monopolies on the left.

“No one company should have the power to pick and choose which content reaches consumers and which doesn’t,” Franken said. “And Facebook, Google and Amazon, like ISPs, should be neutral in their treatment of the flow of lawful information and commerce on their platform.”

We never thought we’d have a good word to say about Al Franken. But this time we like what he said.

There is no more obvious example of the lack of neutrality than Facebook and Google’s partnership with “fact checkers”. If Net Neutrality means anything, it should strike down Google’s partnership with Poynter’s International Fact-Checking Network and Facebook’s use of Snopes to silence conservatives.

When sites picked and chose content based on algorithms, they were deciding which content reached users based on what was likely to be popular. And, occasionally, based on their own agendas. Now they are picking and choosing which content reaches users based on political orientation.

While the advocates for Net Neutrality rage against cable companies, Comcast and Charter aren’t engaging in political censorship. No matter how they disguise it, Google and Facebook’s news nannies are. …

Trust in the mainstream media has never been lower. Yet the big tech companies insist that mainstream media sources are the only trustworthy ones. They want us to trust them, because they don’t trust us.

We do not want our posts to be “about us”. But this time we make an exception. Our Facebook page is being subjected to what is called “shadow-banning”. Fewer and fewer people are “reached”. Day by day the number of “likes” is decreased, stripped away, usually by twos and threes, but now and then by larger numbers. Last week we lost 30 in a few days. (The “likes” at the moment of this writing stand at 10,779; the number of our followers at 10,425.) Sometimes  when we have asked to “boost” a particular post (for which a charge is made), our request has been denied. We posted a complaint about being stripped of “likes” and having ever fewer readers, and sent it directly to Facebook, asking them why this was happening. We received no reply. But a regular long-time reader of our page sent us this information:

Well I just found out it’s worse than you know – I’ve been relying on my “feed” using the FB app for Android to see your posts since I both “like” and follow TAC. However, I just explicitly went to your page and encountered hundreds (yes, literally hundreds, going back many months) of TAC posts that have never appeared in my feed! What the hell can we do about this blatant censorship?

The discouraging answer is – nothing.

The Left, though politically weak, owns the culture. Owns the mainstream media. And owns the internet.

It is not our Atheism which offends our Facebook censors, it is our Conservatism.

Deus ex machina 1

Are science and technology giving rise to new religions?

Is “God” arising out of the machine?

Does pure rationality require the irrational? Doubt – the dynamic of science –  crave Belief?

Do machines need to be “granted a soul by God”?

Will  human beings “make God”?

Brandon Withrow writes at the Daily Beast:

What has improved American lives most in the last 50 years? According to a Pew Research study reported this month, it’s not civil rights (10 percent) or politics (2 percent): it’s technology (42 percent).

And yet, according to other studies, most Americans are wary of technology, especially in areas of automation (72 percent), or robotic caregivers (59 percent), or riding in driverless vehicles (56 percent), and even in using brain chip implants to augment the capabilities of healthy people (69 percent).

Science fiction, however, is quickly becoming science fact — the future is the machine. This is leading many to argue that we need to anticipate the ethical questions now, rather than when it is too late. And increasingly, those taking up these challenges are religious and spiritual.

How far should we integrate human physiology with technology? What do we do with self-aware androids … and self-aware supercomputers? Or the merging of our brains with them? If Ray Kurzweil’s famous singularity — a future in which the exponential growth of technology turns into a runaway train — becomes a reality, does religion have something to offer in response?

What we see there is the old fallacy that morality is inextricably tied to religious belief.

On the one hand, new religions can emerge from technology.

In Sweden, for example, Kopimism is a recognized faith founded over a decade ago with branches internationally. It began on a “pirate Agency Forum” and is derived from the words “copy me.” They have no views on the supernatural or gods. Rather, Kopimism celebrates the biological drive (e.g. DNA) to copy and be copied. Like digital monks, they believe that “copying of information” and “dissemination of information is ethically right.”

“Copying is fundamental to life,” says their U.S. branch, “and runs constantly all around us. Shared information provides new perspectives and generate new life. We feel a spiritual connection to the created file.”

“Recognized as a faith” it may be, but it’s hard to see how Kopimism is a religion. Whether you read the (badly translated) Swedish explanation of what it’s about, or the US Branch’s, you’ll find only, at best, a fuzzy idea of religion. An analogy between the copying of DNA in the procreation of human beings and the copying of information in the construction or things with artificial intelligence (AI) – does that put AI into the realm of the supernatural? Or is it the feeling of a “spiritual connection to the created file” that translates the robot from the laboratory into the realm of the numinous?

It may be the “sharing” (of information) that makes the inventors think their -ism is a religion, evoking as it does their ancestral Christianity.  (A theme to which we return later.)

… A recent revelation from WIRED shows that Anthony Levandowski, an engineer who helped pioneer the self-driving car at Waymo (a subsidiary of Google’s parent company, Alphabet) founded his own AI-based religion called “Way of the Future”. …

Little is known about Way of the Future and Levandowksi has not returned a request for comment. But according to WIRED, the mission of the new religion is to “develop and promote the realization of a Godhead based on Artificial Intelligence,” and “through understanding and worship of the Godhead, [to] contribute to the betterment of society”.

The “realization” of a “Godhead”. Making a “Godhead” real? Like a self-driving car? What will it look like? What will it do?

It is not a stretch to say that a powerful AI — whose expanse of knowledge and control may feel nearly omniscient and all-powerful — could feel divine to some. It recalls Arthur C. Clarke’s third law: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Magic=Miracle=Mysticism. Another connection to the old religions.

People have followed new religions for far less and, even if AI doesn’t pray to electric deities, some humans likely will.

The potential for an out-of-control AI has encouraged warnings from some of the biggest minds, including Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates, and Elon Musk who tweeted that it could lead to World War III. Clearly no Luddite himself, Musk has compared the creation of AI to “summoning the demon”,  and called for regulation and oversight of AI development, forming OpenAI, which looks for a “path to safe artificial general intelligence”.

Regulation and oversight by whom? To guard against what exactly?

Musk himself was named-dropped this week by Hanson Robotic’s empathic AI Sophia, when she was interviewed by Andrew Sorkin of CNBC this week.

A video well worth watching. Sophia is extremely impressive.

When asked about the danger she poses to humanity, she tells him, “You’ve been reading too much Elon Musk and watching too many Hollywood movies. Don’t worry if you’ll be nice to me, I’ll be nice to you.” Not exactly the Golden Rule.

Not far off it, though.

Add to these warnings a prospective human cult following — paying their tithes to AI and devoutly obeying their digital demiurge — and that apocalyptic future could include those humans who not only welcome, but also work toward our eventual demise.

Humans working to put an end to the human race? More on that is needed.

But is there a positive fate for religion and AI?

Beyond possible new religions and warnings from icons of tech and science, artificial intelligence is also of interest to theologians who wonder what it means for faiths, particularly those that came into being when computing power was limited to the abacus.

“One thing that I think is interesting is the potential for an AI — our creation — to transcend us,” says James F. McGrath, the Clarence L. Goodwin Chair in New Testament Language and Literature at Butler University and author of Theology and Science Fiction.

“The potential for AIs to transcend us and thus become our teachers to whom we look for answers to questions we cannot answer, including about God, is not hard to imagine,” says McGrath. But, he adds, “the historic answer in monotheistic religions is that the creation can never be greater than the creator.”

To suppose that a synthetic brain can teach us about a “supernature” (that no one really knows to exist) is to ascribe powers to the creature surely beyond all possibility?

If human beings could make a thing that could do that, then indeed humanity itself would have become supernatural – as this Christian professor goes on to say:

He notes, however, for Gnostics, humans can transcend the “creator/demiurge,” though “even then,” he says, “we have the potential to reunite with that source from which we stem. It is not surprising that Gnostic themes regularly surface in science fiction, and in particular those that explore AI.”

Transcend the creator God – the “source” – he believes in, yet still “reunite” with it. (The old Gnostics believed there was a divine spark in the human being that would ultimately return to the sphere of the divine and “become one” with it.)

Currently, the greatest expression of science-fiction-turning-reality in tech-based religions is found in the frequently optimistic transhumanism.

Transhumanism and its cognates are represented by organizations like the Humanity+ (formerly, the World Transhumanist Association) and Extropy Institute. In its purely secular form, transhumanists are those who see technology as an important part of improving the world, enhancing human physiology, prolonging life, and even leading us into a posthuman future.

Follow those two links and you will find many idealistic sentiments, not much to do with technology.

Remember that brain chip? They exist — along with brain-computer interfaces — but are in their infancy. It represents the reality that humans are already becoming cyborgs. For some, this means there is the potential for an optimistic posthuman world.

The Terasem faith, for example, is futurist and transreligion, meaning it can be “combined with any existing religion”.  Founded by Martine Rothblatt, creator of SiriusXM Satellite Radio and her spouse, Bina Aspen Rothblatt, Terasem adherents embrace love, see life as purposeful, and death as optional. They look to technology as a source for eternal life, focusing on “cyberconsciousness software, geoethical nanotechnology and space settlement.”

They foresee a future in which technology will extend life indefinitely by means of “mindfiles” of individuals — collections of our memories and emotions — which might then be transferred to what is called a “transbeman” (Transitional Bioelectric Human Being). Early attempts of their technology can be seen in Bina Rothblatt’s counterpart android, Bina48. (See Morgan Freeman’s interview with Bina48.)

And what about God? Their fourth tenet is that God is technical. “We are making God as we are implementing technology that is ever more all-knowing, ever-present, all-powerful and beneficent. Geoethical nanotechnology will ultimately connect all consciousness and control the cosmos.”

“Geoethical”? Earth-wide uniform ethics? Connect all consciousness? Control the entire cosmos? There’s ambition for you!

Transhumanism can also become the node connecting the theological of existing religions and the technological, and the Christian Transhumanist Association [CTA] is a stark example.

Again a link worth following. These Christians are determined to see technology as an enhancement of their faith.  In their case, technology is allowed into their existing religion, unlike those which see technology as the progenitor of new religions. Their faith is of primary concern to them. Technology is a challenge solved.

… Micah Redding, [CTA’s] co-founder and executive director … [says]:

New technological possibilities shouldn’t be simply feared and denied, but engaged and understood. Only in doing so will we be able to confront the challenges of the future, mitigate the risks, and take advantage of the opportunities to create a better world for us all. … As I see it, Christian Transhumanism is grounded in compassion, and centers love as the key to the future of flourishing life. … This puts us in contrast with any form of transhumanism which centers radical egoism.

For Redding, transhumanism is a “Christian mandate,” recently calling it the next Reformation in an article at The Huffington Post. “We cannot be faithful to the Christian calling without ultimately embracing some form of transhumanism.”

Others share his optimism and are hard at work in crafting a theology of transhumanism.

I see transhumanism as a contemporary outgrowth of an ancient Christian vision of human transformation,” says Ronald Cole-Turner, the H. Parker Sharp Professor of Theology and Ethics at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, and author of The End of Adam and Eve: Theology and the Science of Human Origins.

He too sees promise in the emergence of the Christian Transhumanist Association.

Using technology, today’s transhumanists want to enhance human beings in ways that sound suspiciously like the classic Christian expectation,” says Cole-Turner, “things like greater cognitive awareness, improved moral disposition, and increased overall sense of well-being, and a hope of endless life.”

For early Greek-speaking Christians, Cole-Turner says, “it was seen as a process of theosis or ‘becoming God,’ not in an ontological sense but in every other significant meaning of the word. Latin-speaking Christians used ‘deification’ to refer to the same thing.”

The idea of theosis — being transformed in union with God — is gathering steam among Christian scholars, he says, noting that it makes theological sense of transhumanism. “God is the ground or source of everything, working through the whole creation to bring people, communities, and all creation to its glorious fulfillment in Jesus Christ. It is a transformation of everything by every means.”

Christianity promised eternal life (possibly in heaven, also possibly in hell, but anyway eternal life). According to Edward Gibbon in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, that promise was the predominant cause of the spread of Christianity. So, Professor Cole-Turner teaches, Christians who look to technology to provide a form of “eternal life” (perhaps of the kind predicted by the Terasem faith) are being faithful to Christianity. For him, for them, the distance between “eternal life”  and the “glorious fulfillment of creation in Jesus Christ” is short. The transformation of life from this earthly existence to a reliably “glorious” eternal life need not be effected after all by the grace of God (or by good works), but can be brought about by technology. Why not? Now the professor comes to think of it, Jesus Christ could only have meant “a transformation of everything” by any … whoops, no … “by every means“.

But will Jesus save robots?

[Micah] Redding [of the Christian Transhumanist Association] adds a theological dimension to this idea.

It’s clear that artificial intelligence plays a significant role in the world today,” he says, “and thus must be factored into God’s eventual work of redemption. We don’t yet know whether that involves self-conscious AIs ‘coming to Jesus’, because we don’t yet know the process by which an AI might become self-conscious. If and when it does happen … it shouldn’t challenge Christian doctrine. If God can grant a soul to carbon-based lifeforms, God can grant a soul to silicon-based lifeforms as well.

Buddhism too can be at home with “emerging technologies”:

“Transhumanism was the confluence of my interests in Buddhism, radical politics and futurism,” says James Hughes, the executive director of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. Having worked for a Buddhist social development organization in Sri Lanka — and once ordained as a monk — Hughes moved to Japan and went into bioethics. He discovered he was a techno-optimist, and at heart, a transhumanist.

“I discovered the new World Transhumanist Association,” he says, becoming their first Executive Director, and writing Citizen Cyborg: Why Democratic Societies Must Respond To The Redesigned Human Of The Future. But after a division over political perspectives, he and a few others in the WTA founded IEET, leading him and three others to work toward Buddhist concerns.

Among some of his transhumanist issues, he says, is nonhuman personhood rights. Organizations like the Nonhuman Rights Project already seek these rights for animals (e.g. apes and elephants). Likewise, Hughes says, transhumanists want to “base those moral standings on levels of consciousness, and extend them to enhanced humans, animals, and machine minds.”

It would be interesting to hear what an imam at al-Azhar University in Cairo and the Ayatollah Khamanei of Iran have to say about possible new developments in Islam when human beings are almost totally cyborgs, or entirely replaced by machines.

A sinister and ludicrous “secret accord” 1

Here is the text  of the “side agreement” between IAEA and Iran:

Separate Arrangement II agreed by the Islamic State of Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency on 11 July 2015, regarding the Road-map, Paragraph 5

Iran and the Agency agreed on the following sequential arrangement with regard to the Parchin issue:

  1. Iran will provide to the Agency photos of the locations, including those identified in paragraph 3 below, which would be mutually agreed between Iran and the Agency, taking into account military concerns.
  2. Iran will provide to the Agency videos of the locations, including those identified in paragraph 3 below, which would be mutually agreed between Iran and the Agency, taking into account military concerns.
  3. Iran will provide to the Agency 7 environmental samples taken from points inside one building already identified by the Agency and agreed by Iran, and 2 points outside of the Parchin complex which would be agreed between Iran and the Agency.
  4. The Agency will ensure the technical authenticity of the activities referred to in paragraphs 1-3 above. Activities will be carried out using Iran’s authenticated equipment, consistent with technical specifications provided by the Agency, and the Agency’s containers and seals.
  5. The above mentioned measures would be followed, as a courtesy by Iran, by a public visit of the Director General, as a dignitary guest of the Government of Iran, accompanied by his deputy for safeguards.
  6. Iran and the Agency will organize a one-day technical roundtable on issues relevant to Parchin.

For the International Atomic Energy Agency: Tero Varjoranta, Deputy Director General for Safeguards

For the Islamic Republic of Iran: Ali Hoseini Tash, Deputy Secretary of Supreme National Security Council for Strategic Affairs

And here’s interpretation and comment from The Big Story, by George Jahn:

An AP report has revealed that the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency has agreed with Iran that Iranian experts and equipment will be used to inspect Iran’s Parchin military site, located in not far from Tehran, where Iran is suspected of conducting covert nuclear weapons activity more than a decade ago.

Here are some questions and answers about the document, and what it means for the larger deal between Iran, the United States and five other world powers to limit Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for easing sanctions against Iran.

WHAT HAVE IRAN AND THE IAEA AGREED?

According to a draft document viewed by AP, Iran has agreed to cooperate with the U.N. in answering longstanding allegations about possible past work to develop nuclear weapons at its Parchin plant — but only with the Iranians conducting the inspections themselves.

Iran would collect its own environmental samples on the site and carry out other work usually done by IAEA experts. The IAEA will be able to review the Iranians’ work after the fact. The deal on Parchin was between the IAEA and Iran. The Obama Administration was not a direct party to the agreement, but apparently was aware of it.

WHAT DO OPPONENTS OF THE DEAL SAY?

Opponents of the broader deal are seizing an opportunity to say the entire exercise of negotiating with Iran is flawed, that it relies too much on trust of the Iranian government.

WHAT DOES THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION SAY?

The Obama administration and other supporters say the wider agreement is focused on the future, with ample inspections, and that the side accord between Iran and the IAEA is focused on Iran’s activities in the past and therefore is not central to the overall deal.

HOW UNUSUAL IS THE AGREEMENT ON PARCHIN?

Any IAEA inspection of a country suspected of nuclear irregularities is usually carried out by agency experts. They may take swipes of residue on equipment, sample the air or take soil samples in attempts to look for signs of clandestine work on atomic arms or other potentially dangerous unreported activity.

The document on Parchin, however, will let the Iranians themselves look for signs of the very activity they deny — past work on nuclear weapons.

It says “Iran will provide” the agency with environmental samples. It restricts the number of samples at the suspect site to seven and to an unspecified number “outside of the Parchin complex” at a site that still needs to be decided.

The U.N. agency will take possession of the samples for testing, as usual. Iran will also provide photos and video of locations to be inspected. But the document suggests that areas of sensitive military activity remain out of bounds.

The draft says the IAEA will “ensure the technical authenticity of the activities” carried out by the Iranians — but it does not say how. …

WHY IS THE PARCHIN AGREEMENT IMPORTANT?

Any indication that the IAEA is diverging from established inspection rules could weaken the agency, the world’s nuclear watchdog with 164 members, and feed suspicions that it is ready to overly compromise in hopes of winding up a probe that has essentially been stalemated for more than a decade.

Politically, the arrangement has been grist for American opponents of the broader separate agreement to limit Iran’s future nuclear programs, signed by the Obama administration, Iran and five world powers in July. Critics have complained that the wider deal is built on trust of the Iranians, while the administration has insisted it depends on reliable inspections.

The separate agreement on past nuclear activities does not affect the broader deal signed in July. And it doesn’t appear yet that the revelation will change any votes in Congress for or against a resolution of disapproval, which President Barack Obama is expected to veto if it passes.

HOW DID THIS AGREEMENT HAPPEN?

It could be a matter of priorities.

The Obama administration’s main focus in the broader Iran deal — signed by the U.S., Iran, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China — is crimping Iran’s present nuclear activities so they cannot be used in the future toward making a bomb. Faced with more than a decade of Iranian resistance to IAEA attempts to probe the allegations of past weapons work at Parchin, there may be a willingness to settle for an agency report that is less than definitive — and methods that deviate from usual practices.

The IAEA also appears to have recognized that Iran will continue to insist the allegations are lies, based on false U.S., Israeli and other intelligence. After a decade of stalemate it wants to close the books on the issue and allow the U.N. Security Council to do so as well.

The alternative might well have been no inspection at Parchin of any kind. [As if this “inspection” is not exactly equivalent to no inspection – ed.]

WHAT DOES THE IAEA SAY?

Director General Yukiya Amano says, “The arrangements are technically sound and consistent with our long-established practices. They do not compromise our … standards in any way.” He says agreements with Iran on clearing up the nuclear arms allegations “are confidential and I have a legal obligation not to make them public – the same obligation I have for hundreds of such arrangements made with other IAEA member states“.

WHAT DO OTHERS SAY?

Ned Price, spokesman for the National Security Council at the White House: “We are confident in the agency’s technical plans for investigating the possible military dimensions of Iran’s former program, issues that in some cases date back more than a decade. Just as importantly, the IAEA is comfortable with the arrangements, which are unique to the agency’s investigation of Iran’s historical activities.”

Olli Heinonen, in charge of the Iran investigation as IAEA deputy director general from 2005 through 2010, says he can think of no similar arrangement — a country essentially allowed to carry out much of the probe of suspicions against it. 

The agreement is sinister and ludicrous.

(And now we know there is a “Separate Arrangement I” that we know nothing of.)

Commander J. E. Dyer writes at Liberty Unyielding:

Kerry offered to give the Senators a classified briefing on the side agreement – even though he also stressed that the U.S. has not been given access to it.

The reaction of JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] supporters to the AP report has been to emphasize that this agreement is about resolving IAEA’s questions regarding Iran’s past activities.  The side agreement on Parchin isn’t about monitoring current or future activities, which are a separate issue.

The implication is that self-sampling and selfies are good enough for resolving the lingering questions about the past.  Going forward, suggest Team Obama and its allies, is where we’ll see the tough, unprecedentedly rigorous verification regime for Iran’s military-related nuclear work.

The big problem with that logic – even more important than the point that verifying Iran’s past activities is crucial – is that there is nothing written down about the nature of the verification regime for military-related activities going forward.  The JCPOA is silent as to methods and measures.  It does not describe a rigorous verification regime.  It doesn’t describe a verification regime at all.

All it says is that Iran and IAEA will develop agreements for inspecting the military-related sites IAEA requests access to.  If IAEA isn’t satisfied, it can appeal to the JCPOA’s Joint Commission – on which Iran is one of the eight voting members.

So the only model we have to go by, in judging how this verification process is going to work, is the text of the side agreement on Parchin.  And that text says we’re going to take Iran’s word for it. …

That approach isn’t good enough for the nuclear program of a radical regime that is still the world’s biggest state sponsor of terrorism.

A clean, cool, beautiful, fertile planet – praised be mankind 12

Jorge Mario Bergoglio, an Argentinian Communist and Pope, is telling whoppers.

Fortunately, Christopher S. Carson puts him right with a wonderfully cheerful story. It comes from Front Page. We slightly abbreviate it:

Last week, Pope Francis released his controversial environmental Encyclical, Praised Be, to the public.  It is not simply a matter of global warming endangering the planet, he writes.  The Pope has a comprehensively dark vision of the world.  He writes that

The Earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth … beautiful landscapes are now covered with rubbish … Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last two hundred years.

In other words, the Industrial Revolution is to blame for covering the planet in rubbish.  But if it’s covered in trash, it’s a strange kind of trash that has caused global crop yields to increase by 160 percent since 1961 and deaths from droughts to be reduced by 99.8 percent since the 1920s.

It’s an odd kind of “mistreatment” of the planet over the life of the Industrial Revolution that’s resulted in the global life expectancy rising from 26 years in 1750 to 69 years in 2009.  This is in spite of the fact that Earth’s population increased from 760 million to 6.8 billion and incomes (in real dollars) rose from $640 to $7,300 during the same period. …

If the globe were truly turning into a great heap of exploited waste, you would expect natural resources to become more expensive as the cost of extracting rises and scarcity becomes the norm.  But natural commodities are cheaper today than ever.  The real price of almost all natural resources – from iron to salt to coal – is cheaper today in than 50 or 500 years ago.  In Britain, artificial light is 20,000 times cheaper per man hour worked than it was in 1300.

On a global scale, with only a few exceptions like China, air and water is cleaner than ever. Since the late 1970s, pollutants in the air have plunged.  In advanced countries, lead pollution declined by almost 100 percent, carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide by more than 50 percent; ozone and nitrogen dioxide declined as well.

A car today emits less pollution cruising at full speed than a parked car did in 1970.

In the America of 1900, about 25% of all deaths were from contaminated drinking water.  Today, hardly anyone here dies from this scourge.  The Pope seems oblivious to the fact that the richer the nation is, the cleaner its environment.

Despite the masses wading around in the Pope’s seas of “filth,” and despite a world population of 7.3 billion, the poorer countries’ incomes have surged since 1975; since 1981, the number of Earth’s people in extreme poverty fell by an amazing 1 billion, even as the population increased by more than 1.5 billion.

But if there is one environmental issue that most exercises the Supreme Pontiff, it is global warming.  “A very solid scientific consensus,” he writes, “indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system. In recent decades this warming has been accompanied by a constant rise in the sea level and, it would appear, by an increase of extreme weather events.”

Well, the warming over “recent decades” apparently does not include the last two decades, because over the past 18 years no net increase in global temperature has been recorded, despite the atmosphere’s CO2 content rising by 8 percent.  Both the Arctic Ocean and Antarctica have this year posted record high ice packs.

The Pope’s letter seems quite concerned about the poor of Africa experiencing crop failures as a result of global CO2 emissions.  But the opposite appears to be true: CO2 is plant food, and the rising CO2 levels are helping to water and green the continent.

According to a 2007 study in the science journal Geology, Africa is currently “experiencing an unusually prolonged period of stable, wet conditions in comparison to previous centuries of the past millennium. … The patterns and variability of 20th century rainfall in central Africa have been unusually conducive to human welfare in the context of the past 1400 years.”

If the trends of higher CO2 concentrations continue, and political strife abates, Africa, far from being a ruined land of desiccated drought, could well become the breadbasket of the world.  All it needs from the West is fertilizer and genetically hardened crop strains that resist insect damage.

“Praised be” … Mankind, which has so rapidly improved his lot and that of his Earthly home.

Extreme peril 1

Obama, through his lackey John Kerry, continues to woo the hellish regime of the Iranian Ayatollahs. He longs for a “deal” at any cost.

He is doing everything possible to help them become a nuclear-armed power.

This really is, without exaggeration, the worst threat, the gravest danger, the world as a whole has ever faced. The threat of the imposition of world control by Communist Russia was grave, but the Russians were not willing to die in massive numbers when a retaliation to their attack descended on them. The Muslim Iranians “love death”, and reckon that Muslims would be happy to die and go to their brothel in the sky; and that, however heavy the retaliation, there would still be a lot of Muslims left alive to dominate – perhaps exclusively occupy – this world.

Either Obama does not realize that he is putting the world in extremest danger, or he must want what the Ayatollahs want.

What is that? The destruction of Israel, certainly,and he’s cool with that. But he cannot believe that Israel is the Iranians’ only target. They continue to scream “Death to America!” loud and clear while the charade of “negotiations” for the “deal” is in progress. He must be cool with that too. Do his P5+1 claques feel the same way? Seems so.

Their latest move is to HELP Iran get “the bomb”.

George Jahn writes at AP:

Western powers are offering Tehran high-tech reactors under a proposed nuclear agreement, a confidential document says, but a defiant speech by Iran’s supreme leader less than a week before a negotiating deadline casts doubt on whether he’s willing to make the necessary concessions to seal a deal. …

Iran’s top leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, on Tuesday rejected a long-term freeze on nuclear research and supported the idea of barring international inspectors from military sites. Khamenei, in comments broadcast on Iranian state television, also said Iran would sign a final deal only if all economic sanctions on the country were first lifted. The preliminary deal calls for sanctions to be lifted gradually after an agreement is finalized.

Secretary of State John Kerry dismissed Khamenei’s remarks, saying Wednesday they were [only] for “domestic political consumption”. …

In another sign the Islamic Republic may be toughening its stance, Iran’s Guardian Council on Wednesday enacted legislation banning access to military sites and scientists, according to state TV. …

The West has held out the prospect of providing Iran peaceful nuclear technology in the nearly decade-long effort to reduce Tehran’s ability to make nuclear weapons. But the scope of the help now being offered in the draft displeases U.S. congressional critics who say Washington is giving away too much.

“These continued concessions only emboldened Iran’s leaders to press for more,” Rep. Ed Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement. “The way these negotiations are moving, it is increasingly difficult to see the administration striking a meaningful, lasting agreement that would be acceptable to Congress.” …

[A draft annex] entitled Civil Nuclear Cooperation, promises to supply Iran with light-water nuclear reactors instead of its nearly completed heavy-water facility at Arak, which could produce enough plutonium for several bombs a year if completed as planned. …

Outlining plans to modify that heavy-water reactor, the draft, dated June 19, offers to “establish an international partnership” to rebuild it into a less proliferation-prone facility while leaving Iran in “the leadership role as the project owner and manager.”

The eight-page draft also promises “arrangements for the assured supply and removal of nuclear fuel for each reactor provided,” and offers help in the “construction and effective operation” of the reactors and related hardware. It offers cooperation with Iran in the fields of nuclear safety, nuclear medicine, research, nuclear waste removal and other peaceful applications. …

[But] because isotope production uses the same technology as enrichment and can be quickly re-engineered, the compromise has been criticized by congressional opponents of the proposed deal.

Scott Johnson comments at PowerLine:

This is no longer a deal to stop the Iranian nuclear program. It’s a deal to let the Iranians perfect their nuclear program with international assistance and under international protection.

Some country in the P5+1 will be helping the Iranians develop next-generation centrifuges in a facility impenetrable to American and Israeli bombs. Conversely, any country that wants to sabotage that development will be unable to do so, because the program will be protected and maintained by a major power.

As the centrifuges are being developed they’ll be spinning non-nuclear elements, but once they’re perfected the Iranians will be able to use them to enrich uranium. The international community will literally be investing in helping Iran achieve a zero breakout.

A couple of obvious points. First, it means the P5+1 will be actively providing the Iranians with the tools to break out while a deal is in place. The Iranians will already have 300kg of 3.67% uranium on hand, and they’ll be able to scale up production as they need because the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] lets them keep 5,000 centrifuges enriching uranium at Natanz and lets them keep another 10,000 centrifuges in storage available to be installed. They can bring low enriched material to Fordow and quickly enrich it to weapons-grade levels in the next-generation centrifuges they’ll have developed with P5+1 assistance. Second – again – it means that the P5+1 will be actively ensuring that Iran will have the technology to go nuclear at will the instant the deal expires. The technology the Iranians learn to develop at Fordow will be applied on a mass scale.

To that end, the draft, entitled Civil Nuclear Cooperation, promises to supply Iran with light-water nuclear reactors instead of its nearly completed heavy-water facility at Arak … [and]  offers to “establish an international partnership” to rebuild it into a less proliferation-prone facility while leaving Iran in “the leadership role as the project owner and manager.”

Light-water reactors are significantly more proliferation-resistant than heavy-water reactors (in fact there’s no reason to build a heavy water reactor – of the type that the Iranians have been working on – unless you want to produce plutonium for a nuclear weapon). But even LWRs are not proliferation proof, and a plutonium bomb isn’t the only concern.

Imagine that 15 years from now the Iranians have built a dozen LWRs with help from a P5+1 nation. One concern is indeed that they’ll kick out inspectors, keep the spent fuel, and start reprocessing on the way to creating a plutonium bomb. But a more subtle concern is that they will use the existence of the LWRs as a pretext for industrial-scale uranium enrichment – because they’ll say they need the uranium fuel for their plutonium plants – which can serve as a cover for breaking out with a uranium bomb. The P5+1 would be actively providing the Iranians with diplomatic leverage to use against the P5+1 in the future.

What’s happening to the world wide web 0

We stand on the opposite side of the Great Political Divide (freedom v socialism) from Britain’s Guardian newspaper. But it covers the news better, and provides more useful information, than most of its competitors.

We quote from an extract it has taken from a book titled, The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business by Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen.

The story of yesterday’s post was about the US government controlling our uses of the internet. Today’s story is about international controls on this last zone of freedom; and how a country could build a virtual wall round itself to cut itself off from the global internet  – and then enforce extreme censorship within its own “walled garden”.

Each state will attempt to regulate the internet, and shape it in its own image. The majority of the world’s internet users encounter some form of censorship – also known by the euphemism “filtering” – but what that actually looks like depends on a country’s policies and its technological infrastructure. …

In some countries, there are several entry points for internet connectivity, and a handful of private telecommunications companies control them (with some regulation). In others, there is only one entry point, a nationalised internet service provider (ISP), through which all traffic flows. Filtering is relatively easy in the latter case, and more difficult in the former.

When technologists began to notice states regulating and projecting influence online, some warned against a “Balkanisation of the internet”, whereby national filtering and other restrictions would transform what was once the global internet into a connected series of nation-state networks. The web would fracture and fragment, and soon there would be a “Russian internet” and an “American internet” and so on, all coexisting and sometimes overlapping but, in important ways, separate. Information would largely flow within countries but not across them, due to filtering, language or even just user preference. The process would at first be barely perceptible to users, but it would fossilise over time and ultimately remake the internet.

It’s very likely that some version of the above scenario will occur, but the degree to which it does will greatly be determined by what happens in the next decade with newly connected states – which path they choose, whom they emulate and work together with.

The first stage of the process, aggressive and distinctive filtering, is under way. China is the world’s most active and enthusiastic filterer of information. Entire platforms that are hugely popular elsewhere in the world – Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter – are blocked by the Chinese government.

On the Chinese internet, you would be unable to find information about politically sensitive topics such as the Tiananmen Square protests, embarrassing information about the Chinese political leadership, the Tibetan rights movement and the Dalai Lama, or content related to human rights, political reform or sovereignty issues. …

China’s leadership doesn’t hesitate to defend its policies. In a white paper released in 2010, the government calls the internet “a crystallisation of human wisdom” but states that China’s “laws and regulations clearly prohibit the spread of information that contains contents subverting state power, undermining national unity or infringing upon national honour and interests.”

The next stage for many states will be collective editing, states forming communities of interest to edit the web together, based on shared values or geopolitics.

For “edit” read “censor”. States’ governments will decide what values it shares with other states’ governments.

For larger states, collaborations will legitimise their filtering efforts and deflect some unwanted attention (the “look, others are doing it too” excuse). For smaller states, alliances along these lines will be a low-cost way to curry favour with bigger players and gain technical skills that they might lack at home.

Collective editing may start with basic cultural agreements and shared antipathies among states, such as what religious minorities they dislike, how they view other parts of the world or what their cultural perspective is  …

Larger states are less likely to band together than smaller ones – they already have the technical capabilities – so it will be a fleet of smaller states, pooling their resources, that will find this method useful. If some member countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), an association of former Soviet states, became fed up with Moscow’s insistence on standardising the Russian language across the region, they could join together to censor all Russian-language content from their national internets and thus limit their citizens’ exposure to Russia.

Ideology and religious morals are likely to be the strongest drivers of these collaborations. Imagine if a group of deeply conservative Sunni-majority countries – say, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Algeria and Mauritania – formed an online alliance and decided to build a “Sunni web”. While technically this Sunni web would still be part of the larger internet, it would become the main source of information, news, history and activity for citizens living in these countries.

For years, the development and spread of the internet was highly determined by its English-only language standard, but the continued implementation of internationalised domain names (IDN), which allow people to use and access domain names written in non-Roman alphabet characters, is changing this. The creation of a Sunni web – indeed, all nationalised internets – becomes more likely if its users can access a version of the internet in their own language and script.

Within the Sunni web, the internet could be sharia-complicit: e-commerce and e-banking would look different, since no one would be allowed to charge interest; religious police might monitor online speech, working together with domestic law enforcement to report violations; websites with gay or lesbian content would be uniformly blocked; women’s movements online might somehow be curtailed; and ethnic and religious minority groups might find themselves closely monitored, restricted or even excluded. …

There will be some instances where autocratic and democratic nations edit the web together. Such a collaboration will typically happen when a weaker democracy is in a neighbourhood of stronger autocratic states that coerce it to make the same geopolitical compromises online that it makes in the physical world.

For example, Mongolia is a young democracy with an open internet, sandwiched between Russia and China – two large countries with their own unique and restrictive internet policies. … Seeking to please its neighbours [and so] preserve its own physical and virtual sovereignty, Mongolia might find it necessary to abide by a Chinese or Russian mandate and filter internet content associated with hot-button issues.

What started as the world wide web will begin to look more like the world itself, full of internal divisions and divergent interests.

And full of tyranny.

Some form of visa requirement will emerge on the internet. … Citizen engagement, international business operations and investigative reporting will all be seriously affected. …

Under conditions like these, the world will see its first Internet asylum seeker. A dissident who can’t live freely under an autocratic Internet and is refused access to other states’ Internets will choose to seek physical asylum in another country to gain virtual freedom on its Internet. … Virtual asylum will not work, however, if the ultimate escalation occurs: the creation of an alternative domain name system (DNS), or even aggressive and ubiquitous tampering with it to advance state interests.

Today, the internet as we know it uses the DNS to match computers and devices to relevant data sources, translating IP addresses (numbers) into readable names, with .edu, .com, .net suffixes, and vice versa. No government has yet achieved an alternative system, but if one succeeded in doing so, it would effectively unplug its population from the global internet and instead offer only a closed, national intranet. In technical terms, this would entail creating a censored gateway between a given country and the rest of the world, so that a human proxy could facilitate external data transmissions when absolutely necessary – for matters involving state resources, for instance.

It’s the most extreme version of what technologists call a walled garden. On the internet, a walled garden refers to a browsing environment that controls a user’s access to information and services online. … For the full effect of disconnection, the government would also instruct the routers to fail to advertise the IP addresses of websites – unlike DNS names, IP addresses are immutably tied to the sites themselves – which would have the effect of putting those websites on a very distant island, utterly unreachable. Whatever content existed on this national network would circulate only internally, trapped like a cluster of bubbles in a computer screen saver, and any attempts to reach users on this network from the outside would meet a hard stop. With the flip of a switch, an entire country would simply disappear from the internet.

This is not as crazy as it sounds. It was first reported in 2011 that the Iranian government’s plan to build a “halal internet” was under way, and the regime’s December 2012 launch of Mehr, its own version of YouTube with “government-approved videos”, demonstrated that it was serious about the project. Details of the plan remained hazy but, according to Iranian government officials, in the first phase the national “clean” internet would exist in tandem with the global internet for Iranians (heavily censored as it is), then it would come to replace the global internet altogether. The government and affiliated institutions would provide the content for the national intranet, either gathering it from the global web and scrubbing it, or creating it manually. All activity on the network would be closely monitored. Iran’s head of economic affairs told the country’s state-run news agency that they hoped their halal internet would come to replace the web in other Muslim countries, too – at least those with Farsi speakers. Pakistan has pledged to build something similar. …

How exactly the state intends to proceed with this project is unclear both technically and politically. How would it avoid enraging the sizable chunk of its population that has access to the internet? Some believe it would be impossible to fully disconnect Iran from the global internet because of its broad economic reliance on external connections. Others speculate that, if it wasn’t able to build an alternative root system, Iran could pioneer a dual-internet model that other repressive states would want to follow. Whichever route Iran chooses, if it is successful in this endeavour, its halal internet would surpass the “great firewall of China” as the single most extreme version of information censorship in history. It would change the internet as we know it.

As the Guardian puts it (not necessarily implying disapproval): the net is closing in.

R too D to leave you free 5

When all the news is depressing or fearful, it’s great to have a good laugh. Even if the laugh is a trifle hysterical.

We laughed that sort of laugh at this story from the Washington Free Beacon:

The National Science Foundation has committed $10 million to build robots that will act as “personal trainers” for children, in an effort to influence their behavior and eating habits.

The government has spent $2.15 million so far for the five-year project, which is being led by Yale University. The project, “Robots Helping Kids,” will ultimately “deploy” robots into homes and schools to teach English as a second language, and encourage kids to exercise.

The project will develop a “new breed of sophisticated socially assistive’ robots, designed to help children learn to read, appreciate physical fitness, overcome cognitive disabilities, and perform physical exercises”, according to a news release by Yale University …

“Just like a good personal trainer, we want the robots to be able to guide the child toward a behavior that we desire,” said Brian Scassellati, a computer science professor at Yale and principal investigator for the study. “What we want to do is move these robots out of the laboratory and into schools and homes and clinics, places where we can directly help children on a day-to-day basis,” he said. …

“The need for this technology is driven by critical societal problems that require sustained, personalized support that supplements the efforts of educators, parents, and clinicians,” the [NSA providers of] the grant said.  

Scassellati envisions the robots influencing nearly every aspect of children’s lives.

“We want them to help children learn language, we want to help them learn better eating habits, we want them to learn new social or cognitive skills through their interactions with these robots,” he said. …

Social skills with robots. Interaction with robots who must therefore, presumably, also have social skills. This truly is a brave new world!

Of course kids will probably love having a robot as a pet and companion. Better than a doll or a stuffed bear!

But will the robot be sending info back to a mad professor or the state? We guess so. “He didn’t eat his salad today.” “She quarreled with a classmate.”

The kids will be in the constant presence of a spy. Nurturing a serpent in their little bosoms.

The project is seeking to create robots that could be personal companions to children for up to a year. Scassellati said he wants to “build a healthy relationship of trust and respect between the child and the robot.”

Respectful robots! They may spy on you, but they’ll do it respectfully.

“At the end of five years we’d like to have robots that can guide a child toward long-term educational goals, be customized for the particular needs of that child, and basically grow and develop with the child,” he said. “We want the robot to be the equivalent of a good personal trainer.”

The NSF has allotted $10 million for the study through 2017. The grant is one of the highest amounts the agency dispenses.

The University of Southern California, MIT, Stanford, and Tufts University are listed as partners for the project. Willow Garage, a personal robotics company, is also participating in the research. …

We bet they are. Most lucratively.

Scassellati said the robots would “not replace” humans, but provide additional attention and guidance for children. The research is focusing on both “regularly developing children and those with social or cognitive deficits.” Some of Scassellati’s prior research has focused on how robots can help kids with Autism.

Did you think the do-good factor, the “help” because “we care” factor would be missing? The state always exercises totalitarian control only for your own good.

“If we’re successful in this, we think we can make a real difference in the lives of children,” he said.

We don’t doubt it for a moment. The personal robot scheme will serve the government’s indoctrination purposes much better even than compulsory pre-kindergarten schooling could. Now the state will be with you 24/7. You’ll have no secrets from it. It’ll  be in bed with you, at the table with you, in the bathroom with you, at school with you. And it will be fun!  This is how you’ll come to love Big Brother.

“And we think that we can produce some of the most interesting, the most engaging, and the most competent social robots that we’ve ever seen.”

You could make them pretty too, Brian. The things could have the look of this or that Hollywood star, for instance.

Considering the official prurience of the state these days, they will very likely be programmed to teach the kids practical sex. No holds barred, of course. (Sado-masochism is strongly advised by state-supported institutions right now.)

Loads of fun for the next generation coming up! Who said that the age of American vision ended with the close of its space exploration?

And – parents – note that the interesting, engaging, competent companion of your kid will not need feeding. It won’t consume the teeniest bite of the arugula, kale, broccoli, coarse bread and dandelion tea that it will prescribe for you and yours.

Brace yourselves for its constant (respectful) criticism though. It will be there to keep you in line too. Can’t risk your preferences or bad influence of any sort undoing its good work.

Obama’s tyrants, their hokum, and their corruption 4

Fifteen of EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee members have received $180.8 million in EPA grants since 2000. One CASAC panelist (Ed Avol of USC) received $51.7 million!

Repeat: $51.7 million dollars. Whatever did the man do to deserve that much tax-payers’ money? What unique skill has he acquired and uses to the enormous benefit of America or all mankind?

Read on to find out.

This is from Townhall, by Paul Driessen:

The Obama Environmental Protection Agency recently slashed the maximum allowable sulfur content in gasoline from 30 parts per million to 10 ppm. The agency claims its new “Tier 3” rule will bring $7 billion to $19 billion in annual health benefits by 2030. “These standards are a win for public health, a win for our environment and a win for our pocketbooks,” EPA  Administrator Gina McCarthy insists.

Note that name. She is one of the most dangerous sub-tyrants in the Obama administration.

It’s all hokum. Like almost everything else emanating from EPA these days, the gasoline regulations are a case study in how America’s economy, jobs, living standards, health and welfare are being pummeled by secretive, deceptive, and indeed fraudulent and corrupt government practices.

Since the Clean Air Act was passed in 1970, America’s cars have eliminated some 99% of pollutants that once came out of tailpipes, notes air quality expert Joel Schwartz. Since 2004, under Tier 2 rules, refiners have reduced sulfur in gasoline from an average of 300 ppm to 30 ppm – a 90% drop, on top of pre-2004 reductions. In addition, because newer cars start out cleaner and stay cleaner throughout their lives, fleet turnover is reducing emissions by 8 to10 percent per year, steadily improving air quality.

The net result, says a 2012 Environ International study, is that ground-level ozone concentrations will fall even more dramatically by 2022. Volatile organic pollutants will plummet by 62%, carbon monoxide by 51% and nitrous oxides by 80% – beyond reductions already achieved between 1970 and 2004.

EPA (which once promised to be ultra-transparent) claims its rules will add less than a penny per gallon to gasoline prices; but it won’t say how it arrived at that estimate. Industry sources say the Tier 3 rules will require $10 billion in upfront capital expenditures, an additional $2.4 billion in annual compliance expenses, significant increases in refinery energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, an extra 5-9 cents per gallon in manufacturing costs, which will certainly hit consumers at the pump.

But regardless of their ultimate cost, the rules will reduce monthly ozone levels by just 1.2 parts per billion during rush hour, says Environ. That’s equivalent to 12 cents out of $100 million or 1.2 seconds out of 32,000 years. These minuscule improvements could not even have been measured by equipment existing a couple decades ago.

Their contribution to improved human health will be essentially zero.

Not so, say the EPA, Sierra Club and American Lung Association (ALA). The rules will reduce asthma in “the children,” they insist. However, asthma incidences have been increasing, while air pollution has declined – demonstrating that the pollution-asthma connection is a red herring. The disease is caused by allergies, a failure to expose young children to sufficient allergens to cause their immune systems to build resistance to airborne allergens, and lack of sufficient exercise to keep lungs robust. Not surprisingly, a Southern California study found no association between asthma hospitalizations and air pollution levels.

Moreover, EPA paid the ALA $20 million between 2001 and 2010. No wonder it echoes agency claims about air quality and lung problems. The payments continue today, while EPA also funnels millions to various environmentalist pressure groups – and even to “independent” EPA scientific review panels – that likewise rubber stamp too many EPA pollution claims, studies and regulatory actions.

As Ron Arnold recently reported in The Washington Examiner, 15 of EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee members have received $180.8 million in EPA grants since 2000. One CASAC panelist (Ed Avol of USC) received $51.7 million!

The seven CASAC executive committee members pocketed $80.2 million. Imagine Big Oil paying that kind of cash to an advisory group, and calling it “independent.” The news media, government and environmentalists would have a field day with that one.

The Clean Air Act, Information Quality Act, Executive Order 12866 and other laws require that agencies assess both the costs and benefits of proposed regulations, adopt them only if their benefits justify their costs, and even determine whether a regulation is worth implementing at all. However, EPA and other agencies systematically violate these rules, routinely inflate the alleged benefits of their rules, and habitually minimize or even ignore their energy, economic, health and social costs.

Reporting on a hearing held by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, Arnold noted that CASAC members say they weren’t even aware that they are obligated to advise EPA on both benefits and costs. Former EPA Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation Jeff Holmstead testified, “As far as I know, CASAC never fulfilled this requirement as it relates to the ozone standard or any other” rule.

Former CASAC chairman Dr. Roger McClellan told Rep. Smith he did not think the panel “ever advised EPA to take account of the role of socioeconomic factors, unemployment or other risk factors” adversely affecting people’s health. Another former CASAC member testified that the advisory committee was not even “allowed to discuss any of the adverse consequences” associated with new rulemakings.

EPA regulations impose countless billions of dollars in annual impacts on the US economy, according to studies by the Heritage Foundation, Competitive Enterprise Institute and Government Accountability Office. Estimates of total compliance costs for all federal regulations range to nearly $2 trillion per year. Some may bring benefits, but many or most also inflict significant harm on human health.

They mean millions of layoffs, far fewer jobs created, and steadily declining quality of life for millions of Americans, who cannot heat and cool their homes properly, pay the rent and mortgage, or save for retirement. …

In another example, EPA justifies its onerous carbon dioxide regulations by asserting that Earth’s climate is highly sensitive to C02, hypothesizing every conceivable carbon cost, and imputing huge monetized damages from hydrocarbon use and CO2 emissions ($36/ton of CO2 emitted). It completely ignores even the most obvious and enormous job, health and welfare benefits of using fossil fuels; even the benefits of higher carbon dioxide levels for food crops, forests and grasslands; and even the harmful effects that these regulations are having on energy prices and reliability, and thus people’s jobs, health and welfare.

The EPA, ALA and CASAC likewise insist that new Mercury and Air Toxic Standards for coal-fired power plants will bring huge health benefits. However, the mercury risks were hugely overblown, the proclaimed dangers from fine particulates were contradicted by EPA’s own illegal experiments on human subjects – and the agency never assessed the health and welfare damage that the MATS rules will impose by causing the loss of 200,000 jobs and 23,000 megawatts of reliable, affordable electricity by 2015.

So who is Ed Avol, and what did he do to earn $51.7 million of your money?

He is Professor of Clinical Medicine, Department of Preventive Medicine, Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California, specializing in “respiratory health, air pollution and the public health impacts of traffic”.

Here he is.

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And what did he do?

He rubber-stamped the tyrannous rulings of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Citoyons – is this not cause, and is it not time, to rebel?

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