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AI panics

The last month or so has seen renewed discussion of the benefits and dangers of artificial intelligence, sparked by Stephen Hawking's speech at the opening of the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence at Cambridge University. In that context, it may be worthwhile to point again to the earliest explicit and credible AI warning that I know of, namely Norbert Wiener's 1950 book The Human Use of Human Beings [emphasis added]:

[T]he machine plays no favorites between manual labor and white-collar labor. Thus the possible fields into which the new industrial revolution is likely to penetrate are very extensive, and include all labor performing judgments of a low level, in much the same way as the displaced labor of the earlier industrial revolution included every aspect of human power. […]

The introduction of the new devices and the dates at which they are to be expected are, of course, largely economic matters, on which I am not an expert. Short of any violent political changes or another great war, I should give a rough estimate that it will take the new tools ten to twenty years to come into their own. […]

Let us remember that the automatic machine, whatever we think of any feelings it may have or may not have, is the precise economic equivalent of slave labor. Any labor which competes with slave labor must accept the economic conditions of slave labor. It is perfectly clear that this will produce an unemployment situation, in comparison with which the present recession and even the depression of the thirties will seem a pleasant joke. This depression will ruin many industries-possibly even the industries which have taken advantage of the new potentialities. However, there is nothing in the industrial tradition which forbids an industrialist to make a sure and quick profit, and to get out before the crash touches him personally.

Thus the new industrial revolution is a two-edged sword. It may be used for the benefit of humanity, but only if humanity survives long enough to enter a period in which such a benefit is possible. It may also be used to destroy humanity, and if it is not used intelligently it can go very far in that direction.

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Intensifying assed

Laura Ellis, "Why Go There? A Linguist Dissects Jim Gray's 'Wild-Ass' Zinger", WFPL 11/1/2016:

Kentucky U.S. Senator Rand Paul and his opponent, Lexington Mayor Jim Gray squared off Tuesday night in their only face-to-face debate of the election season. For an hour, they talked about the future of coal, Kentucky's heroin problem, and more.

But it was one particular turn of phrase, used by Gray, that caught people's ears. It includes a word for the human posterior.

What Jim Gray said:

He wants us to believe
that his wild-assed theories and philosophies
are the remedies for everything

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Open Access Handbooks in Linguistics!

A couple of weeks ago, I wrung my hands on Facebook over the proliferation of commercial publishers' Handbooks of Linguistics. These are usually priced out of individuals' budgets, being sold mostly to university libraries, and the thousands of hours of work poured into them by dedicated linguists are often lost behind a paywall, inaccessible to many of the people who would most like to read them.

That post prompted a flood of urgent discussion; it seemed like this was a thought that was being simultaneously had around the world. (Indeed, Kai von Fintel had posted the identical thought about six months prior; probably that butterfly was the ultimate cause of the veritable hurricane  that erupted on my feed.)

Long story short, a few weeks later we now have a proto-editorial board and are on to the next steps of identifying a venue and a business model for the series. Please check out our announcement below the fold, and follow along on our blog for updates as the series develops!

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Yesterday, #VeteransForKaepernick became the No. 1 trending topic on Twitter, with 264k tweets. (If you're just returning from a vacation on Mars, you can read about the background here or here.)

This reaction confirmed my impression that the end of the draft might be one of the reasons for the growing polarization of American politics. And it reminded me of an experience that I posted about back in 2003. I'll copy the anecdote below to save you all the trouble of following the link.

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Singular They of the day

Today's Questionable Content:

I think we've reached the point where no one who reads this web comic regularly would even notice. For more on those who would, see "Linguistic Reaction at the New Yorker", 3/8/2016.


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When is Ex- ?

This title on a Reuters story on Yahoo gave me a double-take:

Ex-Heisman winner Troy Smith arrested on DUI and drug charge

There is no suggestion that the Heisman trophy award was ever rescinded. I think in my dialect, once a Heisman trophy winner, always a Heisman trophy winner. I've never heard anyone called an ex-Nobel Prize winner. Am I missing something, or is this really unusual usage? I think even O.J. Simpson is still a Heisman trophy winner.

But I can imagine that the line between where I clearly use ex- and where I don't might not be sharp. Ex-president, ex-spouse are clear. (Hmm, there's also 'former' in competition — that's what I would use for 'department head', not ex-.) I find myself sometimes starting to say "Some of our former Ph.D's (never ex-!!)", but then I usually stop and remove 'former'. Aha, they're our former students, but not our former graduates – they're our graduates forever.

But back to the Heisman trophy. Even if you only hold possession of the trophy for a year, actually or symbolically, you're still a trophy winner forever, aren't you?


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Sanford stumble ringtone

In a comment on "Mark Sanford can't even" (2/15/2016), Thomas Lee wrote

If only I knew how to turn those marvelous eight seconds of mumbo jumbo into a ringtone for my iPhone…

Just download SanfordRingtone.m4r, add it to your iTunes library, and sync your iPhone. For Android users, download SanfordRingtone.mp3 and follow these instructions.

What you get in either case is this — the start of representative Mark Sanford's response to a question about whether he would support Donald Trump:

So you might want to reconsider.

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Freedom and flexibility

Muriel Spark's memoir Curriculum Vitae antedates discourse-particle like to the early 1920s. And J.L. Austin, in his posthumous work Sense and Sensibilia, defends like as "the great adjuster-word, or, alternatively put, the main flexibility-device by whose aid, in spite of the limited scope of our vocabulary, we can always avoid being left completely speechless."

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On the attacks in Paris

All of my friends in Paris are safe.

I don't know of any linguistic angle to these events. [Update — I do now, thanks to Sally in the comments.]

But here's a relevant (if ambiguous) comment, in form of Victor Hugo's 1828 poem L'Enfant:

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My usual blogging hour has been overwhelmed recently by a minor operation, course prep, research obligations, Ware College House events, and even a little sleep from time to time. So here are a few items from my to-blog list that I don't have time today to do justice to.

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Chinese internet slang, acronyms, and common expressions

Of the many websites dealing with contemporary Chinese language and culture, chinaSMACK is one of the best.  So eye-popping is chinaSMACK's content that I could very easily spend nearly all of my time immersed in it.

One chinaSMACK feature that undoubtedly will be of considerable interest to Language Log readers is this glossary of terms frequently encountered on the Chinese internet.

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Smoot-Hawley on the web

[Warning: little direct linguistic content.] Apple's decision to allow ad-blocking in iOS-9 (Eric Griffith, "Apple iOS 9 Ad-Blocking Explained (And Why It's a Bad Move", PC Magazine 6/11/2015) has caused a recent flurry of stories as iOS-9 has been rolled out. A few examples: Casey Johnston, "Welcome to the Block Party", The Awl 9/14/2015; Katie Benner & Sydney Ember, "Enabling of Ad Blocking in Apple's iOS 9 Prompts Backlash", NYT 9/18/2015; Andrea Peterson & Brian Fung, "Why the maker of a chart-topping ad blocker just pulled it off the App Store", WaPo 9/18/2015; Philip Elmer-DeWitt, "Let the iOS 9 ad block wars begin!", Fortune 9/20/2015; Jasper Jackson, "Can publishers stop the ad blocking wave?", The Guardian 9/20/2015; "Will Ad-Blocking Millennials Destroy Online Publishing Or Save It?", Forbes 9/20/2015.

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Finger drumming

I don't have much time this morning, so I'll just point you toward a fun post by Joe Pater on finger drumming.

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