Tag Archives: Technology

AMERICAN TRUTH & INEPTITUDE

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.com

America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History

Written by: Andrew J. Bacevich

Narrated by: Rob Shapiro, Andrew J. Bacevich

ANDREW BACEVICH (AMERICAN HISTORIAN, SERVED IN VIETNAM AND GULF WAR)

To put it mildly, this is a difficult audio book to listen to.  It rings with historic truth while revealing American ineptitude.  Written by a military historian who retired as a Colonel, served in Vietnam and the Persian Gulf and, tragically, lost a son in Iraq in 2007. Bacevich implies that America’s wars, since WWII, have been failures.  (Though he does not mention Korea, one presumes a temporary peace at the 38th parallel is included.)

Bacevich’s latest book focuses on war in the Middle East; a war of attrition and guerrilla warfare that reminds one of Vietnam.  America clearly did not win in Vietnam and is facing a similar loss in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Syria.

MIDDLE EAST (America clearly did not win in Vietnam and is facing a similar loss in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Syria.)

To Bacevich, post WWII’ wars are the result of failures of diplomacy, military strategy, and military/civilian intelligence.  Bacevich suggests America is in a “no-win” position in the Middle East because of misunderstanding of real-politic and fundamentalist beliefs that fracture nation-state comity.

SADDAM HUSSEIN (1937-2006, FIFTH PRESIDENT OF IRAQ)
BASHAR al-ASSAD (SYRIA, PRESIDENT)

Bacevich argues that failures of diplomacy come from a belief that removing a nation’s leader will change the nature of governments and the people they lead.  He suggests Middle East, history shows that removing leaders only creates chaos and more resistance to American objectives.  (In Vietnam, America tries to overcome the chaos of war with puppet government leaders who focused on self-aggrandizement more than public good.)

AMERICAN INVASION OF IRAQ 2003 (As a military strategy, America enters the Middle East by using overwhelming force to defeat the Iraq army; to apprehend or kill Saddam Hussein, and remove weapons of mass destruction. )

As a military strategy, America enters the Middle East by using overwhelming force to defeat the Iraq army; to apprehend or kill Saddam Hussein, and remove weapons of mass destruction.

HAMID KARZAI (PRESIDENT OF AFGHANISTAN 2004-2014)

In Afghanistan, the military strategy is to remove the Taliban and encourage the election of a government that would interrupt any terrorist organizations that would disrupt American interests.

MUAMMAR MOHAMMED ABU MINYAR QADDAFI (FORMER PRIME MINISTER OF LIBYA)

In Libya, the military strategy is to bomb forces of Muammar Gaddafi; weaken his control, and allow opposition forces to dethrone or try Gaddafi for crimes against humanity.

BASHAR al-ASSAD (SYRIA, PRESIDENT)

In Syria, the military strategy is to bomb ISIS and arm factions opposed to Bashar al-Assad with a goal of Assad’s abdication.  Bacevich suggests these strategies are a waste of American blood and treasure because there is no “end-game”.

ABU BAKR al-BAGHDADI (al-QAEDA LEADER SINCE 2003, ISIS LEADER SINCE MAY 2010)

Removing leaders changes nothing.  Military actions are focused on removing leaders as opposed to addressing native cultural imperatives.  A new leader will rise based on the culture of the country; not the interests of America or some other foreign combatant.

The use of drones may reduce American casualties but remote killing hardens the enemy and compromises military strategy with collateral damage that kills innocents as well as insurgents.  The hardening of the enemy results in more recruits opposing American forces. For these and other reasons (psychological as well as physical), killing by drone is a strategic military and civilian mistake.

AMERICAN DRONE ATTACKS IN PAKISTAN (NOT ONLY TALIBAN ARE KILLED, The use of drones may reduce American casualties but remote killing hardens the enemy and compromises military strategy with collateral damage that kills innocents as well as insurgents. )
NATIONALIZATION OF OIL IN IRAN (MARCH 1951, America wants oil and that oil must come from diplomacy and negotiation, not Middle Eastern regime change. )

What is over-looked is the real-politic of America’s needs and the Middle East’s cultural imperatives.  Middle Easterners want their country to be what they want it to be.  America wants oil and that oil must come from diplomacy and negotiation, not Middle Eastern regime change. Wars founded on military strategic objectives will ultimately fail.

Great Britain could not hold the American colonies because foreign wars were too expensive.  Just as in America’s actions and presumptions in the Middle East, Great Britain fails to address or appreciate colonist’s cultural concerns.

(BOOK WRITTEN BY FORMER NSA AND CIA DIRECTOR, MICHAEL V. HAYDEN)

America’s civilian and military intelligence fails our government leaders.  An obvious military intelligence failure is NSA’s insistence, and the CIA’s concurrence, that there were WMD in Iraq.  Less obvious is America’s failure to recognize every nation in the world wishes to be sovereign; wishes to follow their own traditions, and wishes to grow into their own identity.

AMERICAN CIVIL WAR (America fought its own war to become a democratic republic.  It is not perfect, but most Americans want to live in their own country.)

It may be dis-proportionally unjust for other governments to be other than democratic but who are we to judge or dictate to another sovereign country?  America fought its own war to become a democratic republic.  It is not perfect, but most Americans want to live in their own country.  Diplomacy is Bacevich’s implied solution.  One presumes Bacevich is not implying America should become isolationist.  He suggests America needs diplomacy, founded on cultural understanding of other nations; not war, to get what the U.S.  needs to prosper.

As countries mature, the common needs of humankind will become more evident.  Like a child growing up, countries grow into adulthood.  Some will die in the process; many mistakes will be made, but most will grow into maturity based on their own traditions and adopted foreign influences.

Democracy works for America.  American democracy does not work for everyone.  Countries need to work with each other based on maturity; not infant tantrum.  As nations mature, rages will continue to occur because of internal strife.  However, Bacevich infers international diplomacy is a better alternative to war for survival of the species.

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The A.I. Frontier

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.com

Philosophy of Mind: Brains, Consciousness, and Thinking Machines

Written by: The Great Courses

Narrated by: Professor Patrick Grim

PATRICK GRIM (PROFESSOR OF PHILOSOPHY)

Patrick Grim cogently describes the frontier of artificial intelligence in “Philosophy of Mind”. The concluding lectures argue that the closest we have come to defining consciousness is the “Hot (acronym for higher-order-theory) Theory” proposed by David Rosenthal. Though Grim has reservations about Rosenthal’s concept, he suggests it is the nearest functional definition with an inferential suggestion that computers can pass a Turing test.

DAVID M. ROSENTHAL (PROFESSOR AT THE GRADUATE CENTER CITY UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK)
ALAN TURING (1912-1954, PIONEERING ENGLISH COMPUTER SCIENTIST)

To back up a bit—Grim goes through the history of mind-body theories from Aristotle through modern times.  Grim tries to answer the question–What is consciousness?

History shows philosophical theories of mind revolve around duality, materiality, thought, and in more modern times, functionality.  Some theorist postulate consciousness is made up of the relationship between mind and body.

Some others believe in a yet-to-be-identified physiological building block that provides consciousness, and others theorize nothing material exists except in the mind of the perceiver.  Still others suggest consciousness is the cognitive relationship between the material world and the mind.  Grim suggests Rosenthal’s idea of consciousness as functionality comes closer to the mark.

WATSON COMPUTER DEFEATS BEST JEOPARDY PLAYERS 2011

The import of all these theories becomes eminently important when Alan Turing suggested–It seems probable that once machine thinking started, it will not take long to outstrip our feeble power— They will be able to converse with each other to sharpen their wits. Turing suggests, “At some stage, we should expect machines to take control.” To many, this is a threat to humanity; to others it is the hope of humanity.

To Turing, the turning point will be when human beings are unable to distinguish between human to human conversation and machine to human conversation; i.e. that is the Turing Test.  To date, the test has not been passed.  Grim implies Turing is not concerned about whether computers will ever become conscious or not.  To Turing consciousness is beside the point of a machine being able to surpass human capabilities.  The fact that computers show the capability of exceeding human abilities in some areas proves Turing’s point; without being able to pass the Turing test.

Grim does not believe computers will ever have consciousness that achieves awareness by the mind (a CPU in the case of machines), of itself, and the world.

  He does not think machines will ever be able to comprehend their being-ness.  Grim suggests only a living thing will have a sense of being itself based on its form, learned experience, and function.  Grim somewhat hedges that belief with Rosenthal’s concept of consciousness as self-awareness which incorporates both material being and mental function.  To Grim, there is no building block or Lego piece that will be discovered for consciousness.  Without that type of elemental discovery, Grim is skeptical about human being’s ability to create conscious machines.

To some, Grim’s argument is superfluous.  Considering Turing’s 1940’s observation, consciousness is an unnecessary computer accoutrement.  To someone like Ray Kurzweil, technology is on the verge of discovering the building blocks of consciousness; in fact, Kurzweil suggests some computers already have some level of consciousness.

Whatever the answer is about computer consciousness, little question remains about the impact computers have had, and are having in the world.  Quantum computing adds another dimension for potential computer consciousness.

Professor Grim’s lectures are excellent.  He provides a clear explanation of the history of “…Mind: Brains, Consciousness, and Thinking Machines.”

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HUMAN OPTIMISM

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.com

How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed

Written by: Ray Kurzweil

Narrated by: Christopher Lane

RAY KURZWEIL (AUTHOR,SCIENTIST,INVENTOR, DIRECTOR OF ENGINEERING AT GOOGLE)

The technological wizardry of Ray Kurzweil’s thoughts breed human optimism.  At times, “How to Create a Mind” seems like self-aggrandizement for Kurzweil’s beliefs.  Kurzweil believes artificial intelligence will expand the future of humankind.

TED BELL (AMERICAN AUTHOR)

On the one hand, listeners hope he is right; on the other, (paraphrasing Ted Bell) when artificial intelligence is applied to cyber warfare, it is a threat to everybody.

One is reminded of Kahneman and Tversky’s book, “Thinking Fast and Slow”, that implies human beings act more emotionally than logically.  If logic became a bigger part of human decision-making through A.I.’ enhancement, would humanity be better off?  Kurzweil implies the answer is yes.

Kurzweil argues that humanity is on the verge of an A.I.’ singularity.  Humanity’s existence will change with the physiological introduction of artificial intelligence into human beings.  Kurzweil argues the process has already begun with prosthesis being connected to the human nervous system, i.e. artificial human limbs that move at the order of thought.

RETIRED ARMY RANGER GETS FIRST PROSTHETIC LEG WITH ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE 2006

He notes the expanded understanding of brain function offers knowledge of how human’s think at a physiological level.  The building blocks of human thought are being identified.  Kurzweil describes the building blocks of the mind as Lego pieces that can be assembled to create human thought.  With identification of the building blocks, a giant step toward reverse engineering the brain will be tantalizingly close.

DEEP BLUE (BEAT GARRY KASPAROV IN SIX GAME MATCH 1996)

Without question, computers think faster than human beings.  Kurzweil notes the creation of Deep Blue and its defeat of the best players of chess, and Watson’s defeat of the best players of Jeopardy as evidence of the superiority of AI to human intelligence. He questions those who argue Deep Blue and Watson are just programmed computers by humans.  Kurzweil argues that Deep Blue and Watson border the edge of consciousness by being self-taught with minimal programming from human beings.  He recounts the advances in medical treatment from computers designed to absorb all of the relevant literature on human disease to suggest effective treatment for ill patients.

————WATSON COMPUTER DEFEATS BEST JEOPARDY PLAYERS 2011————
GORDON MOORE (AMERICAN BUSINESSMAN, AUTHOR OF MOORE’S LAW

A part of Kurzweil’s cogency is reinforced by the geometric growth of technology from the diminishing Moore’s law (the belief that the number of transistors per square inch on integrated circuits doubles every year) to the age of quantum computing.  He argues that Moore’s law may become obsolete but new fields of computing miniaturization are opening as the law begins to fail.  With the advent of quantum computing, transistors for binary calculations based on transistors may become obsolete.  Kurzweil’s point is that linear thinking misleads those who think technology is either slowing down or failing to open new doors for humanity’s advance.

To Kurzweil, humanity’s future is rosy; not in the sense of their being a surcease of human pain and suffering, but in the sense of technological advance.  He suggests technology will continue to expand at a geometric rate to improve human health, reduce societal degradation, and assure human survival. Kurzweil sees a singularity that melds artificial intelligence with human DNA.  The combination, in Kurzweil’s opinion, provides a vehicle for humanity’s survival, exploration, and expansion.

So, “Don’t worry, be happy” as Bobby McFerrin said.  Or as Leo Tolstoy said, “If you want to be happy, be.”  As noted, Kurzweil’s thoughts breed human optimism.

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A 37% ALGORITHM

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.com

Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisionsalgorithms-to-live-by

Written by: Brian Christian, Tom Griffiths

Narrated by: Brian Christian

BRIAN CHRISTIAN (AMERICAN AUTHOR & POET)
BRIAN CHRISTIAN (AMERICAN AUTHOR & POET)
TOM GRIFFITHS (CO-AUTHOR, DIRECTOR OF COMPUTATIONAL COGNITIVE SCIENCE LABE AT THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA)
TOM GRIFFITHS (CO-AUTHOR, DIRECTOR OF COMPUTATIONAL COGNITIVE SCIENCE LABE AT THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA)

“A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” explains that the ultimate answer to the meaning of life is 42; however, Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths tell us it is 37.  “Algorithms to Live By” explains that if you want to have an optimum answer to a complex question, it will take 37% of an allotted amount of time to study the known and unknown details of a question to come up with an optimum answer.  Keep in mind, this is not a perfect answer but a probabilistically calculated optimum answer; i.e. an answer based on what is known and unknown.

MERRILL M. FLOOD (1908-1997, AMERICAN MATHEMATICIAN)
MERRILL M. FLOOD (1908-1991, AMERICAN MATHEMATICIAN)

If you sit at a poker table for three hours, the first hour should be used to gather information about your competition.  You will never know everything you need to know to win a hand of poker.  But, you will improve your chances of winning by taking slightly more than 1/3rd of your time gathering information about the way your competitors play.  This is a simplistic way of looking at Christian’ and Griffiths’ explanation of human decision-making.  The authors identify the discoverer of this algorithm as Merrill Flood, an American mathematician who, with Melvin Dresher, came up with the Prisoner’s dilemma, a model of cooperation and conflict.

The Prisoner’s dilemma is the story of two robbers that are placed in separate sells, interrogated independently, and offered a deal if they will rat on their associate.  The example given by the authors is that these robbers could rat on each other to get a reduced sentence.  The consequence of their confession would be to serve a shorter sentence but, per Christian and Griffiths, they can reap the reward of their robbery when released.  In that circumstance, the authors suggest everyone loses; no one wins.  However, they argue the game can be changed.  The example given is the introduction of a Mafia leader that says they will be murdered if they rat on each other.  The introduction of this new variable changes the probability of the outcome.

The 37% factoid offers truth but fails to give much more comfort to one seeking knowledge about life than the number 42.  The authors suggest it is considerably better than knowing nothing but the complexity of life makes outcomes entirely probabilistic.  Even though, one presumes–the more you know, the better your decisions will be.  Au contraire; i.e. Christian and Griffith note that too much information can skew the probability of truth to greater error.

With computers and the internet, one would think truth would be easier to find.  However, Christian and Griffith imply–computers offer added complexity; not truth to humanity’s search for meaning.  They argue computers are only tools for revealing complexity.  In other words, 37% is the best we can do in getting to the truth of answers about complex questions.  In fact, the authors suggest there is a point of diminishing return; i.e. too many accumulated facts can distort the truth, and take one farther away from a 37% probability. A recent example is statistical sampling concluding Hillary Clinton would be the next President of the United States.

TRUMP AND CLINTON
TRUMP AND CLINTON (EXAMPLE OF UNEXPECTED OUTCOMES FROM STATISTICAL SAMPLING.)

There is much more in Christian and Griffiths exploration of algorithms but it is disheartening to realize human search for truth is constrained by a 37% boundary.

This is an enlightening exploration of the world of algorithms and computer science.  On the one hand, it suggests human intuition is highly valuable; on the other, it explains why it is unwise to rely on instinct alone, or the complex algorithms created by computers.

JAY WRIGHT FORRESTER (1918-2016, PIONEERING AMERICAN COMPUTER ENGINEER AND SYSTEMS SCIENTIST AT MIT)
JAY WRIGHT FORRESTER (1918-2016, PIONEERING AMERICAN COMPUTER ENGINEER AND SYSTEMS SCIENTIST AT MIT)

Some useful tools for life’s management are explained but there is a ring of truthiness in their conclusions.

(NOTE: Jay Wright Forrester died Nov. 16th—one of the pioneers of system dynamics that attempted to model complex interactions between the world economy, population, and ecology.)

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SPACE AND TIME

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.com

Spooky Action at a Distance: The Phenomenon That Reimagines Space and Time-and What It Means for Black Holes, the Big Bang, and Theories of Everything SPOOKY ACTION

Written by: George Musser

Narration by:  William Hughes

GEORGE MUSSER (AUTHOR, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN)
GEORGE MUSSER (AUTHOR, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN)

 

“Spooky Action at a Distance” (also called entanglement) collapses the theory of space just as Einstein’s theory of relativity collapsed time.  George Musser argues that experimental evidence suggests neither space nor time have form or matter in an Aristotelian sense.  Aristotle explains the nature of things by suggesting an object perceived by the senses has form and matter.  By Aristotle’s definition, both space and time are perceived by the senses; in other words, they have form and matter.  Einstein’s theory shows that time is relative which denies precise form or matter.  Time changes based on an observer’s relative location, and the speed of observer and observed.

Musser notes that with the advent of quantum theory, the same holds true for space because of the experimental proof of “Spooky Action at a Distance”.  John Stewart Bell and David Bohm note how elemental particles, separated by wide distances, can be manipulated to mimic or oppose each other’s spin.  It is as though there is no space between two widely separated particles, one of which is acted on, while the other reacts simultaneously.  The reaction is faster than the speed of light.  The ramification of this “Spooky Action at a Distance” is that space has no inherent meaning.  Both space and time are a fiction created by the senses.

JOHN STEWART BELL (1928-1990)
JOHN STEWART BELL (1928-1990)
DAVID BOHM (1917-1992, AMERICAN PHYSICIST)
DAVID BOHM (1917-1992, AMERICAN PHYSICIST)

Musser broadly explains this phenomenon as the difference between locality and non-locality in what appears to be a cause and effect relationship.  With Newton, all action is presumed to be based on locality with gravitation of the earth causing an apple to fall to the ground.  With Bell and Bohm, the apple still falls to the ground but it may have nothing to do with gravity but because of an unseen phenomenon; i.e. something that is non-local and unrelated to Newtonian locality’s cause and effect (maybe dark energy or dark matter that connects everything to everything).

——————————–OR IS IT?——————————

“Spooky Action at a Distance” calls into question the need of space or proximity.  It also raises questions about the speed of light as a limitation for cause and effect; i.e. if “Spooky Action at a Distance” reflects instantaneous change; then cause and effect have no speed limitations. Parenthetically, the idea of inflation at the big bang may be replaced by a principle of spooky action.

Black holes are also re-imagined with the principle of “Spooky Action at a Distance”.  Maybe black holes are the source of new galaxies being formed in other universes.  It may be that this is still a cause and effect universe but a theory of everything escapes us at the moment because of its undiscovered nature, a cause unseen.

ALBERT EINSTEIN (1879-1955)
NIELS BOHR (1885-1962)

One of many things that are interesting in Musser’s book is that Einstein may have been ahead of Niels Bohr in appreciating Quantum Theory even though the idea set Einstein on edge.  There is hope for an undiscovered truth that will bring the nature of things into a theory of everything that is more predictable than the probabilities of quantum mechanics.  This may still be a “cause and effect” universe.  Maybe Smollin is right and too much research and investment is committed to string theory at the expense of other “theory of everything” ideas.

ENDORPHINS ARE CHEMICALS IN THE BRAIN THAT FUNCTION AS NUEROTRANSMITTERS

Musser’s story reminds one of research done on Einstein’s brain.  The size and number of dendrites and synapses of Einstein’s brain were found to be the same as in normal human brains. However, every human has glia cells in their brain that have a function that does not comport with normal electrical connections but still transmit information to the autonomic and cognitive functions of the brain.  Neuroscientists found that the glia cell-count in Einstein’s brain is higher than the average for most human beings.  The glia cells were found to be the source of a different mind/body connection that transmitted information in a different way.  One wonders, is that why Einstein could see what others could not?  Re-imagining is what Musser infers is needed in today’s physics’ departments.

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ETHNIC CLEANSING

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.com

Assignment: BosniaAssignment Bosnia

Written by: Barry Friedman

Narration by:  Roger Friedman

“Assignment: Bosnia” is a fictional story of an American’s investigation of ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavian territories.  It is more of a radio play than an audiobook.  The author, Barry Friedman paints a picture of American embassy ineptitude, local police ineffectiveness, and Serbian atrocity.

BARRY FRIEDMAN (AUTHOR)
BARRY FRIEDMAN (AUTHOR)
Friedman’s story principally deals with a Serbian effort to hide mass murders carried out during the war.  Additionally, his story lightly touches on Croatian and Muslim roles in murders of the 1990’s war.

The hero of the story is an ex-Vietnam officer who has recently lost re-election to the Senate and is offered an assignment to Bosnia to investigate missing persons from the Balkan wars. Friedman’s story is about Harrison-Ford-like’ adventures of this former Senator.

Friedman’s writing is unexceptional but he shows how aerial reconnaissance became a useful tool in finding mass grave sites that were denied by the Serbian government.  Through a combination of aerial imaging, thermal data, light detection and ranging technology–software algorithms are created to find mass grave sites.

Freidman notes that land mines are an ever-present danger in the territory.  The land mine issue remains a significant danger in Bosnia and Herzegovina as shown in the following 2014 film:

A moderately interesting (probably unintended part of the author’s story) is how and why private sector subcontractors enlist former congressional officials to become part of their company.

An employee of a company contacts former elected officials who are on special government assignment.  An unwritten presumption in Friedman’s story is that a private sector employee’s objective is to enhance his company’s prospect for getting government contracts.  Friedman offers a story that puts the best face on an ex-Senator’s hiring by making the private sector employee a former good friend. The good friend just happens to be in Bosnia experimenting with a new aerial surveillance product designed to find left-over land mines from the war.  The hero ex-Senator of the story offers to go to work for the company if $500,000 in service and equipment is contributed to the Bosnian government for aerial investigation of mass graves.  Everyone wins; i.e. the private company gets a new employee with government experience and influence, Bosnia gets help with the cost of aerial surveillance, and an ex-Senator becomes a well-paid American hero.

At best, Friedman’s story reminds one of the terrible consequence of the disintegration of Yugoslavia. It is a story of events that are repeating themselves in the Middle East and parts of Africa.  Anarchy, as well as bad government, can lead to ethnic cleansing and brutal internecine warfare.  “Assignment Bosnia” is not well written but it sheds some light on the plight of Balkan citizens in the last years of the twentieth century.

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LAW AND DISORDER

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.com

Unfair: The New Science of Criminal InjusticeUnfair

Written by: Adam Benforado

Narration by:  Joe Bearrett

ADAM BENFORADO (AUTHOR, GRADUATE OF HARVARD LAW SCHOOL & YALE UNIVERISTY, PROFESSOR AT THOMAS KLINE SCHOOL OF LAW AT DREXEL UNIVERSITY)
ADAM BENFORADO (AUTHOR, GRADUATE OF HARVARD LAW SCHOOL & YALE UNIVERISTY, PROFESSOR AT THOMAS KLINE SCHOOL OF LAW AT DREXEL UNIVERSITY)

Adam Benforado finds America’s justice system rife with law and disorder.  It is a subject of hot debate in American politics.  From the subject of the death penalty, to treatment of minorities, to the injustice of incarceration, Benforado systematically criticizes American justice.  What makes Benforado’s book interesting are his corrective solutions.

Though the majority of Americans still support the death penalty, support is as low as it’s been in 40 years.  Death row executions peaked in 1999 and have fallen ever since.  There is growing doubt that a death penalty deters serious crime.  Benforado argues that fear of death is no deterrent for reasons ranging from environmental to psychological human circumstance.  Human beings do not rationally consider the consequence of committing violent crimes.

DEATH PENALTY DECLINE TREND
DEATH PENALTY DECLINE TREND

A 2010 PEW research report shows that black men are six times as likely as white men to be jailed.  Benforado argues that inherent human bias is a principal cause of disproportionate arrest and conviction of minorities.  Police departments are trained and organized to close criminal cases in ways that deny equal justice.  From the way crime scenes are investigated to the way witnesses are interrogated, Benforado explains how bias distorts the arrest and conviction process.

KNOWING WHEN TO RAM OR KNOCK

Benforado recounts the story of a newspaper reporter that is lying at the side of a road bleeding, unable to speak or explain why he is disoriented.  The police arrive and presume the person is drunk because of slurred speech and inability to stand.  The police call dispatch to explain the circumstances of the incident.

MISTAKEN DRUNKENNESS (The difficulty of determining the difference between intoxication and a stroke can happen in an elder care facility with professional medical personnel–what police training can eliminate human error?)

The victim is taken to a hospital.  Based on the police incident report, the victim is set aside in a room to sober up.  A doctor finally examines the man and finds he has difficulty breathing and shows signs of concussion.  The man dies.

Police re-investigate the scene and find a bloody pipe and realize the person was mugged.  He suffered a concussion, and dies as a result of misdiagnosis that began at the crime scene.  Benforado infers proper training of the police in emergency medical treatment and careful crime scene investigation could have saved this person’s life. Benforado may have a point but what level of police training can eliminate human error?  We ask much of the police but it seems unreasonable to expect them to be trained as psychologists and physicians; as well as public servants and protectors.

Two things come to mind that make Benforado’s inference irritating.  If you are a police officer, your primary job is to serve and protect; not provide emergency medical treatment.  The second thing, policemen and women are faced everyday with people who are homeless, psychologically unbalanced, or injured from accidents.  Evidence of poor police work is an unfair assessment of this tragic incident.

It may be true that more careful crime scene investigation may have saved this person’s life but, in the pressure cooker life of urban police work, mistakes will be made.  This is not an excuse but it is the nature of being human.  However, Benforado’s point is noteworthy because police department personnel should be trained to include EMT.   They are often first at the scene.  Further, America’s treatment of the homeless and psychologically impaired should be improved but Police Departments are not funded or educationally qualified to provide that training or service.

POLICE INTERROGATION

Benforado’s analysis of police interrogation techniques is an eye-opening and discouraging piece of “…Criminal Injustice”.  Benforado recounts a number of instances where interrogation of witnesses and alleged criminals lead to false witness identifications and bogus criminal confessions.  Human cognition is hugely influenced by connecting dots in a maze of information that has nothing to do with the truth of a criminal or homicidal event.  Human brains are not movie projectors that record images of the past.  Humans often remember what people lead them to think.  They may like the person that is asking questions.  They have deep respect, and in some cases, disrespect for officers in uniform. They receive subtle clues from interrogators about who they think is guilty.  They want their perception of what happened to have continuity because minds search for coherent meaning.  Witnesses are not lying but they are mis-remembering or manufacturing a cohesive story from disparate or minimally related facts.  Or, their respect or hate for police distorts their perspective.

PLEA BARGAINING

Police interrogation and plea bargaining of witnesses and the accused increase the likelihood of injustice.  Once the accused is arrested and Miranda Rights are spoken, police routinely lie and mislead the accused to increase the probability of a plea bargain.  Closing cases, more than justice, is the Police Department’s objective because that is what a department’s efficiency and effectiveness are measured against.  Benforado recounts cases of people admitting guilt who are later found innocent by missed evidence or by evidence of others who are proven guilty for the crime.  As a result of long police interrogations, an accused’s sleep deprivation, and police lies about collected evidence (like DNA alleged to have been found), the accused will falsely admit guilt.  Police cajoling, and the carrot of a plea bargain to reduce sentences, seduces the accused to confess to crimes they did not commit.

ASSOCIATE SUPREME COURT JUSTICE SCALIA
ASSOCIATE SUPREME COURT JUSTICE ANTONIN SCALIA (1936-2016, SERVED ON THE SUPREME COURT FROM 1986 UNTIL DEATH)
SAMUEL GROSS ( Professor at University of Michagan, earned a JD from the University of California at Berkeley in 1973. He was a criminal defense attorney in San Francisco for several years.)
SAMUEL GROSS        ( Earned a JD from the University of California at Berkeley in 1973. He was a criminal defense attorney in San Francisco for several years.)

There is a range of .027 percent (estimated by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia) to 4.1 percent by Samuel Gross (a law professor at the University of Michigan), estimating false convictions per year.  Whether .027 or 4.1 percent, innocent citizens are being sentenced for crimes they did not commit.  Benforado notes that over ninety percent of criminal convictions are plea bargained rather than tried in court.  Undoubtedly, plea bargaining increases the number of innocent people incarcerated.  A Ohio State University study believes 10,000 innocent people are convicted every year.

EXONERATIONS IN THE UNITED STATES 1989-2012 (FALSE CONFESSIONS --15%, POSTED BY THE INNOCENCE PROJECT 5.20.13)
EXONERATIONS IN THE UNITED STATES 1989-2012 (15 % ARE FALSE CONFESSIONS –POSTED BY THE INNOCENCE PROJECT 5.20.13)

Benforado addresses the high error rate of eye-witnesses.  Eye-witness’s influence in identifying criminals from mug books and line-ups are routinely used in police investigations.  Human remembrance of detail is highly subjective and often inadvertently misleading.  The same event viewed by different people has been shown by many studies to have been understood in completely different and inaccurate ways.

CAUSES FOR WRONGFUL CONVICTIONS
CAUSES FOR WRONGFUL CONVICTIONS

Adding to the injustice of jailing or executing innocent citizens, America’s incarceration system is broken.  It is not designed to rehabilitate.  It is designed to punish and deprive human beings of freedom.  It is a system of revenge; not rehabilitation.  The result is disproportionately high population imprisonment with high recidivism.  The recidivism is high because treatments in prison make dependents of people who only learn how to live in a closed totalitarian environment.  The use of solitary confinement and implementation of rigid rules of behavior create asocial and antisocial personality disorders.

In this photo taken Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2015, a sign is seen in the window of a bail bonds office across from the Hall of Justice in San Francisco. Two Harvard law school graduates are waging war against the time-honored cash bail bond system, saying it discriminates against poor people who don?t have homes to put up as security for getting out of jail.(AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

Another factor in the gross injustice of American jurisprudence is the bail bond system.  Going back to the publication of Alex de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in American” (printed in the 19th century) there is an acknowledged unfairness of bail bonds for low-income citizens; i.e. if one is a rich criminal, he/she pays a bond and is out on the street; if one is poor, he/she sits in jail until trial.  And of course, the rich criminal hires an attorney for representation in trial; the poor, at best, plea bargains.

FORENSIC SCIENCE SERVICE

Finally Benforado notes the advance of technology in forensic examination of evidence.  Benforado believes this is the area of American criminal justice that offers the most promise for a revolution.  Some of Benforado’s suggestions are already in use.  Cameras that monitor police and citizen behavior offer more accurate information about behavior than eye-witness accounts.

Benforado’s revolutionary ideas involve retraining America’s police force, capitalizing on today’s technological capability, and revising America’s prison system.  Police need to be re-trained.  No more sleep deprived witness interrogations.  More emphasis on saving lives of victims as well as perpetrators; careful self-monitoring of personal biases when investigating crime scenes; relying less on witness identification and more on forensic evidence.

Americans are already living in a “Brave New World”.  Big Brother is watching.  There is the reprehensible consequence of invaded privacy but the truth of criminality is less hidden and more accurately analyzed.  Police brutality is less likely to occur.  The evolution of lie detection is entering an EEG (electroencephalogram) phase where brain activity is measured as questions are asked.  DNA sampling is becoming a more accurate way of determining presence at a crime.

Benforado suggests use of Virtual Reality for trials.  Juries would be impaneled without meeting participants in the trial.  VR mitigates perpetuation of bias caused by looks or behaviors of the accused or witnesses to the crime.   Avatars would replace participants in the trial.  Studies show that better looking men and women are more likely to be believed than those who do not meet the expectations of a jury.

VIRTUAL REALITY TRIALS (When impaneling juries or trying a case, VR mitigates perpetuation of bias caused by looks or behaviors of the accused or witnesses to the crime.)

Benforado also suggests Virtual Reality would allow for time delay when questions are raised by the prosecution or defense; i.e. objections raised and considered by the judge could be legally adjudicated before the jury hears unacceptably biased testimony. The effect would be to eliminate unfair injection of disallowed testimony in trial.

LOCKUP (SAN QUENTIN PRISON)

Benforado argues that prisons should be reconfigured to become more like hospitals or schools to treat and rehabilitate criminals rather than punish them.  He notes that countries that have lower prison populations use incarceration as a way of rehabilitating rather than punishing criminals.  The results have been to reduce the number of people jailed.  Benforado implies that when restricted freedom is necessary, social, medical, and/or psychological treatment and re-education would reduce recidivism.

Benforado’s ideas are revolutionary in that they overturn the direction of American law and order set in the 17th century.  These ideas may be more expensive than having the highest incarnation rate in the world (716 people per 100,000).  Then again, maybe not, considering it cost us $74 billion in 2007.  At the very least, his ideas would make America a more just society.

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