Qatar and Egypt save fragile truce in Gaza!

Dear Commons Community,

The pause between Israel and Hamas appeared to be back on track early yesterday after the release of a second group of militant-held hostages and Palestinians from Israeli prisons, but the swap followed an hours-long delay that underscored the truce’s fragility.

The exchange was delayed after Hamas accused Israel of violating the agreement, which has brought the first significant pause in seven weeks of war marked by the deadliest Israeli-Palestinian violence in decades, vast destruction and displacement across the Gaza Strip, and a hostage crisis that has shaken Israel.  As reported by various news media.

The deal seemed at risk of unraveling until Qatar and Egypt, which mediate with Hamas, announced late yesterday that the obstacles to the exchange had been overcome. The militants released 17 hostages, including 13 Israelis, while Israel freed 39 Palestinian prisoners.

Thousands of people gathered in central Tel Aviv late Saturday to call for the release of all the estimated 240 people captured by Hamas in its Oct. 7 rampage across southern Israel, which ignited the war. They accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of not doing enough to bring them back.

Pressure from the hostages’ families and lingering anger over Israel’s failure to prevent the attack have sharpened the dilemma facing the country’s leaders who seek to eliminate Hamas as a military and governing power while bringing all the captives back safely.

The war has already claimed the lives of more than 1,200 Israelis, mostly civilians killed by Hamas in the initial attack. More than 13,300 Palestinians have been killed, roughly two thirds of them women and minors, according to the Health Ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza.

The four-day cease-fire, which began Friday, was brokered by Qatar, Egypt and the United States. Hamas is to release at least 50 Israeli hostages, and Israel 150 Palestinian prisoners. All are women and minors.

Israel has said the truce can be extended by an extra day for every additional 10 hostages freed, but has vowed to quickly resume its offensive once it ends. Israel said early yesterday that it had received a new list of hostages slated to be released later in the day, in the third of four scheduled swaps.

Thank God for the intervention of Qatar and Egypt in keeping the tenuous truce in Gaza on track.


New study finds AI tool outperforms experts in spotting breast cancer!

AI analysis flagged up to 13 per cent more cases than doctors had identified. – Rui Vieira/PA

Dear Commons Community,

A new study has found that artificial intelligence is significantly better at spotting breast cancer than humans.

The research, published in Nature, found that an AI device which utilized sophisticated image recognition technology to scan mammograms detected up to 13 per cent more breast cancers than radiologists.

Some 20 per cent of tumors are missed during breast screening, but the study, conducted by Imperial College London and Kheiron Medical Technologies, raises hope that this rate could one day be greatly reduced.  As reported by The Telegraph.

The researchers used the AI device, known as Mia, as an extra ‘reader’ to analyse the mammograms of more than 25,000 women over three phases – two pilot phases and one live roll-out – across four screening sites in Hungary.

The mammograms were first examined as usual by two radiologists, before being studied by Mia, which flagged potential false negatives by identifying subtler signs of cancerous tissue that had been deemed healthy by the doctors.

The results showed that the AI delivered improvements in cancer detection rates of 5 per cent, 10 per cent and 13 per cent, respectively, compared with the average reading analysed by at least two radiologists.

It also found that 83 per cent of the additional cancers detected by the device were invasive, meaning that they have the potential to spread to other parts of the body – further highlighting AI’s potential to tackle cancer by providing crucial early detections.

“Our study shows that using AI can act as an effective safety net – a tool to prevent subtler signs of cancer falling through the cracks,” said study co-author Dr Ben Glocker, from Imperial’s Department of Computing.

“Seeing first hand that the use of AI could substantially reduce the rate of missed cancers in breast screening is massive, and a major boost for our mission to transform cancer care with AI technology.”

One in six people will die of cancer, figures show. In 2020, 2.3 million women across the globe were diagnosed with breast cancer, and 685,000 women were killed by the disease, according to the World Health Organization.

“The key question now is how we can justify not using Mia in breast screening when there is such a dramatic improvement in cancer detection,” said Dr Peter Kecskemethy, CEO of Kheiron.

Around the world, healthcare systems are under immense strain, with many cracks exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, such as increased delays in screening and diagnosis.

According to GE Healthcare, for each day the United States spent in lockdown around 100,000 mammograms were added to the nation’s screening backlog.

In 2020, 2.3 million women across the globe were diagnosed with breast cancer, and 685,000 women were killed by the disease, according to the World Health Organization. – ilbusca/GETTY IMAGES

Radiology departments are also struggling, with just 2 per cent of UK radiology departments having the capacity to fulfil their imaging reporting requirements within contracted hours, according to the Royal College of Radiologists.

Three out of four imaging leaders believe that the National Health Service (NHS) does not employ enough staff to ensure “safe and effective care,” according to The Royal College of Radiologists.

Kheiron emphasises that doctors are under immense pressure, especially in screening units, where there is a large volume of cases and a high expectation to go through backlogs. Whereas doctors’ levels of performance are variable, AI has consistent performance, the company said.

It added that it is concerned by the high levels of inaccurate imaging in radiography. Figures show that inaccurate breast positioning is responsible for 47 per cent of technical failures, further increasing the backlog of mammograms and misdiagnosis of breast cancer.

This is where harnessing the power of AI technology, which can analyse images at more intricate pixel depths that doctors can’t, could be crucial, experts say.

“We see the future as humans and AI working together,” said Tobias Rijken, co-founder of Kheiron Medical.

“The way that I always like to think about it is that humans and AI have their own different strengths and I think our paper showed that,” he added.

“I think it’s the two working in tandem that gives you the best performance, if you know how to optimally combine the two workflows.”

Blending human and AI expertise is fast becoming the norm in many human endeavors!


Experts weigh in on the top 10 challenges for nanoscience and nanotechnology!

An entire area of research is devoted to engineering disease nanorobots. IMAGE: © SABISAFTOIU/SHUTTERSTOCK.COM

Dear Commons Community,

In celebration of its 20th anniversary, the National Center for Nanoscience and Technology, China (NCNST), a subsidiary of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, partnered with Science Custom Publishing to survey nanoscience experts across the globe about the most important questions that  need to be answered if we are to advance nanotechnology.  Below is a recap courtesy of Science.  It portends an incredible future for this technology.



  1. Will scientists develop a nanotheory combining aspects of quantum and macroscale physics that can reliably predict the nanoscale behavior of materials?

It’s no secret that physicists are obsessed with the Standard Model of Particle Physics, which describes the nature of matter at the smallest of small levels. Similarly, nanoscientists, who obviously want to better comprehend and predict the nature and behavior of nanomaterials, are also invested in a unified theory that combines features of macroscale physics and quantum physics, where things get a little odd. Materials at the nanoscale have unusual optical, magnetic, and electronic features. The challenge for nanoengineers and nanoscientists is to forge pathways to a clear understanding of what exactly is happening in the nanoworld, so they can more strategically and effectively harness the power of nanotechnology.

The endeavor is anything but simple: scientists want to investigate whether there is a unified theory to bridge continuum theory and molecular-level quantum mechanics, so they can accurately describe (albeit theoretically) the multiscale structure of nanomaterials.

This is ambitious, to say the least, and requires vigorous, transdisciplinary, cross-border partnerships, with significant infrastructure investments in the research. Countries like China, Japan, the U.S., the U.K., and Germany are galvanizing scientists with their efforts to elucidate the connection and correlation between quantum physics and macroscale physics, and in doing so, are getting one step closer (albeit a nanostep) to a possible unified theory of the behavior of materials.

  1. What characteristics of nanomaterials are relevant with respect to toxicity and how can they be controlled under different environmental conditions?

There are three dominant parameters that determine toxicity of a conventional material: chemical composition, chemical structure, and dose. But how do these variables change or factor into determining whether a nanomaterial is toxic? And at the nanoscale, do these dominant parameters still control toxicity? What new information or variables do we need to rationally describe the toxicological behaviors of nanomaterials in vivo?

The issue of concern around toxicity is critical, given the preponderance of nanoparticles and nanomachinery in biological systems. For example, scientists have demonstrated how injecting certain types of nanoparticles in humans can enable better visualization, diagnosis, and treatment of disease. The field of nanomedicine is accelerating at the speed of human ingenuity, so it behooves us to take a careful and thorough examination of the driving factors of toxicity influenced by nanoparticles and nanomachinery.

Fortunately, both scientists and policy makers are taking this very seriously. In the U.S., the National Center for Toxicological Research has specific nanotechnology programs to evaluate and conduct toxicology studies on nanomaterials, and in China, NCNST has a Key Laboratory for Biological Effects of Nanomaterials and Nanosafety. With mobilization of the intellectual resources in agencies such as these, we are well-equipped to address important questions associated with toxicology and nanotechnology.

  1. How can we effectively utilize nanoscience to understand biology?

The work of life often starts at the nanoscale. How can we effectively utilize nanoscience and nanotechnology to delve into the intricate processes within cells, create seamless connections with organelles and macromolecules, and ultimately achieve groundbreaking advances in the field of biology? These are the exciting questions driving intense innovation in nanotechnology today.

At the heart of investigations into how nanotechnology can help us better comprehend life sciences is interdisciplinarity. Scholars and engineers from many different, seemingly disparate fields are aligned and needed for this endeavor because of its complexity. By investing in research that brings together biologists, materials engineers, mechanical engineers, physicists, plant scientists, and even ecologists, neuroscientists, and physician-scientists, we can build stronger research networks that can properly address mighty problems in biology: as each specialist learns the language and culture of the others, they are able to take a comprehensive approach to exploring biology through nanotechnology.

Today, scientists leverage the power of nanotechnology to understand how cells function, to detect and delineate disease, and to deliver life-saving medicines. As we expand our traverse of the nanoworld, there is no doubt that more insights about our biological makeup will emerge.

  1. How will nanotechnology change the practice of medicine?

Nanotechnology has been utilized in medicine for decades; the first FDA-approved nanomedicine, composed of synthetic nanoparticles, was released in 1990. Since then, nanoscience has significantly contributed to new pharmaceuticals, devices, and other interventions in spectacular ways. But there are still many unanswered questions that scientists and engineers must tackle to advance nanomedicine and bio-nano devices in the future.

For example, one of the biggest concerns with using nanotechnology in humans is being able to properly predict its behavior. This is especially critical given that the nature of nanomedicine involves introducing foreign objects into biological systems. Researchers recognize that to unlock the full potential of nanotechnology in medicine we will need to comprehensively grasp and engineer the degradation and metabolism rates of nanomaterials so we can match the natural process of tissue regeneration and disease treatment. Moreover, we need to understand how nanoparticles participate in and influence biological processes, as compared to traditional substances such as ions and molecules.

Beyond the medicines themselves is an entire area of research devoted to engineering disease-fighting nanorobots and other nano-devices from basic biological building blocks with sophisticated intelligence. There is no doubt: a new era of healthcare technology, buttressed by nanotechnology, is upon us

  1. What will scientists learn about nanomaterials at their surface and interface using new visualization technologies?

One would think that the structure on the surface of a nanoparticle is not complicated, given its size. And yet, in many ways, it mirrors a complex system, and varies with time, size, and composition. Since a nanoparticle’s surface has the most interaction with the surrounding environment, this tends to be where the action is as far as function. With this in mind, experts are attempting to generate as much knowledge as possible about the surface of nanomaterials and how to manipulate key features at the surface. This is a vital step in advancing nanoscience because if we don’t truly and fully understand the surface, how can we harness its features for the betterment of humanity?

A twist in this intricate affair? There may be more room for the unknown on the nanosurface. Fortunately, there are numerous visualization tools and methodologies with which materials scientists and physicists are experimenting to uncover the truth. They also want to know how to directly observe the ultrafast energy transfer and electron processes at the nanoscale, and how to visualize the time-space catalytic processes of the catalytic active center at atomic/molecular scale. Ultimately, any information gleaned can assist in developing new standards or rules in nano-based quantification and mechanisms to implement them in real-life measurement.

  1. How will nanotechnology change how we make catalysts and the types of catalysts we can make?

From the dawn of nanoscience, chemistry has played a critical role in advancing the science of the small. While chemists and chemical engineers have contributed to the growth of nanoscience, drawing on their expertise in chemical synthesis and characterization, they have also grown excited by the potential to harness nanotechnology for one of the most essential components of chemical science: catalysis.

A catalyst is a substance that speeds up a chemical reaction. Catalysts are required ingredients for many applications of chemistry in society, from medicines to food to household goods. But what about at the nanoscale? How do catalysts operate? Scientists already appreciate that nanocatalysts, catalysts constructed of nanoparticles, are useful substitutes for traditional catalysts: these workhorses have a significant and active surface area, leading to better interactivity with reactants.

But to improve the efficiency of nanoparticles as catalysts, scholars are scrutinizing different materials that can be used to build the catalysts and experimenting with various methods of synthesis. They are also tackling the challenge of making these catalysts as green as possible, while managing their toxicity. There is still much to uncover about the foundational mechanisms of catalysts, which will most certainly shed much needed light into the burgeoning world of nanocatalysts.

  1. How can we achieve atomic precision in nanoscale objects?

Imagine building an object, be it a module, machine, or something more mundane. What are the smallest pieces that can be used to construct it? In atomic precision manufacturing, atoms become the building blocks. Now, let’s say we want to craft a nanocomponent. How can we achieve atomic precision in nanoscale objects? Although scanning probe methods can manipulate atoms on surfaces, and small clusters can be synthesized with regular atomic structures, for larger nanoparticles, can methods that achieve greater precision be developed? How do we combine methods of precise atomistic control at the nanoscale when the tools used to manipulate the materials are at the centimeter scale or larger?

Experts from chemistry, manufacturing, computing, optics, and materials science are coalescing to propose how novel fabrication methodologies can build nano-objects with precision. They hope to expand synthetic methods for inorganic materials to avoid the use of organic coatings, and control the phase and particle shape, to improve the effectiveness of nanomaterials. Their insights, culled from a combination of experimental and theoretical approaches, are fostering more interesting investigations at larger scales, where they hope to identify new ways of controlling the growth of nanoparticles and nanofilms on substrates, and create hierarchal, multifunctional, or emergently functional structures.

  1. How is nanotechnology going to transform computation with optoelectronic integration?

Nanotechnology has already transformed computation in profound ways. Engineers have been designing, constructing, and using circuits with nanoscale components for decades, which has greatly contributed to the advancement of all areas of technology. At the heart of most computational systems is the goal of manipulating light at the nanoscale, in service of executing faster and more energy efficient and powerful computer machinery.

Nanoplasmonics, “the study of optical phenomena in the nanoscale vicinity of metal surfaces,” as noted in Physics Today over 10 years ago, holds great potential for impacting computing. Although still a relatively nascent field, physicists and optical scientists wonder if nanoplasmonics can live up to its full potential to enable precise manipulation of light, which would lead to faster and more robust supercomputers, able to solve tall-order problems. Among the many unanswered questions in nanoplasmonics, the most urgent include: can we really fabricate photonic/plasmonic circuits that will improve communications, computing, information storage, lasing, and cloaking? Will researchers finally develop a nanomaterial that can extend the electron spin polarization for a longer time and realize quantum computing at room temperature? How can scientists scale down magnetic-based logic and data-storage devices? With every nano bit of knowledge we gain, we assure a big future of computers that leverage the tiny like never before.

  1. How can nanotechnology transform electronics and what is the energy consumption limit for future electronic devices?

From 3D printed batteries and nanosensors to bioelectronic materials that can flex and shapeshift while maintaining high functionality, nanotechnology in electronics is pervasive in society. But while innovations in nanotechnology have allowed electronics to accomplish tasks more quickly, and be more stable, secure, robust, and energy-efficient than ever before, there are still knotty obstacles to overcome to unleash the full power of nanoelectronics. This has led to huge investments in nanoscience research as it applies to electronic components, from chips in mobile devices to programs that run the most sophisticated AI and machine learning systems.

Scientists are perplexed by how to take the next step in advancing electronics at the nanoscale, which will require achieving an on-chip optoelectronic interconnect that overcomes the diffraction limit. This is crucial because the diffraction limit impacts how a chip operates and stores data using light. As chips get smaller, and components edge into the nanoscale and beyond, the science, engineering, and craftsmanship that needs to be undertaken to produce nanoelectronics becomes more complicated, challenging, and expensive. But given that the global nanoelectronics market is projected to exceed $31 billion by 2030, as noted by Virtue Market Research, we can expect more strategic partnerships to push the field.

  1. Can nanotechnology support global sustainability goals?

One of the most fascinating aspects of nanotechnology is that we can leverage the power of the super small to solve big problems facing humans, and it doesn’t get much more macro than climate change. But the lynchpin for nanotechnology to strategically and holistically improve sustainability efforts is that it must become truly carbon neutral, and provide more environmental benefits than costs.

There are already efforts in materials science, chemistry, and mechanical engineering to produce nanotechnology that is more environmentally friendly. But there is another, very exciting promise here: ambitious researchers in nanoscience and nanotechnology are utilizing approaches, tools, and techniques from this arena to address some of humanity’s grand challenges in sustainability, including initiatives in green energy, wastewater treatment, drought- and pest-resistant crops, and greenhouse gas reduction. Because nanotechnology organically intertwines with, bolsters, and grows from so many other STEM disciplines, its capacity to address global sustainability concerns are seemingly unending. And that is the power and promise of nanotechnology—it may be mini but its potential solutions are mammoth.


Video: Researchers Claim They MAY Have Found the Resting Place of Noah’s Ark!

Dear Commons Community,

The following story was reported on Wednesday by The Daily Mail, Good Housekeeping and other media.

Researchers from a trio of universities in Turkey and the United States have spent roughly a year analyzing the rock and soil in the famous Durupinar formation on Mount Ararat, the highest mountain in Turkey. They believe that the boat-shaped site may hold the ruins of the legendary Noah’s Ark.

The Biblical account of Noah tells of God instructing Noah to build a giant ark to spare his family and pairs of animals from an impending flood meant to destroy the evil and wickedness running rampant on Earth. Noah’s Ark is said to have come to rest on the mountains of Ararat following a 150-day flood about 5,000 years ago.

Researchers now believe they’ve found evidence of human activity near the boat-shaped formation in the mountains from between 5500 and 3000 BC.

Faruk Kaya, AICU vice rector professor, says that analyzing rocks and soil from the uniquely shaped area on the mountain shows human activity in the region, timed to the years following the flood in the legend of Noah’s Ark. “In terms of dating, it is stated that there was life in this region as well,” Kaya says, according to The Daily Mail. “This was revealed in the laboratory results.”

Human activity, however, does not a Biblical account prove. The Durupinar formation has been put forth as a potential ark resting place for many years, and has received extensive attention from those hoping to find Noah’s Ark. Despite the hype, archaeologists have consistently reaffirmed over the years that the formation is natural, not the result of a petrified shipwreck, and that there is no geologic record of a global flood like the one described in religious texts. Some believe that a more local flood may have been possible, but that is also debated.

The team says it isn’t currently possible to say that Noah’s Ark itself was at the Durupinar site.

“With the dating, it is not possible to say that the ship is here,” Faruk Kaya, one of the researchers on the project, said according to Turkish news publication Hurriyet. “We need to work for a long time to reveal this. In the next period, we agreed to carry out a joint study under the leadership of ITU, Andrew University and AICU. Three universities will continue their work in this field in the future.”

For now, the scientists point to the evidence in the soil of “clayey materials, marine materials, and seafood,” according to Hurriyet, within the geological formation as evidence.

The team of researchers placed a renewed focus on the region in 2021 by exploring varying geological areas—including the Durupinar formation, which is made of limonite that bears resemblance to a ship like Noah’s Ark. Further exploration led the team to take the rock and soil samples from the country’s highest peaks for laboratory analysis.

The story of God, Noah, his family, the animals in his care, and Noah’s Ark has caused much debate for centuries. The search for proof of this event will likely continue for some time, and only that time will tell if it is there to be found.

Keep digging!


Bob Vander Plaats, Influential Iowa Evangelical Leader, Endorses Ron DeSantis Against Donald Trump!

Dear Commons Community,

Bob Vander Plaats, an influential Iowa evangelical leader, endorsed Ron DeSantis for president earlier this week, boosting the Florida governor as he goes all in on the leadoff caucus state in an effort to quell Republican front-runner Donald Trump.

Vander Plaats is the second major backer DeSantis has picked up in Iowa this month, joining popular Gov. Kim Reynolds.

Evangelicals are a crucial voting bloc in Iowa’s Republican caucuses. Vander Plaats, president of the Family Leader, has endorsed the eventual winner in every GOP caucus since 2008 and is potentially jeopardizing his streak by picking DeSantis, who trails far behind Trump in polls. His decision will test his sway among Iowa evangelicals, many of whom continue to support Trump.

If Trump wins Iowa, he’ll probably go on to be the nominee, “but I don’t think America is going to elect him president again,” Vander Plaats told Fox News host Bret Baier.

“I think America would be well served to have a choice, and I really believe Ron DeSantis should be that guy,” he said. “And I think Iowa is tailor made for him to win this. ”

He pointed to DeSantis’ decisive victory in his 2022 Florida re-election and his success enacting conservative legislation.

Vander Plaats, who is prominent in the anti-abortion movement, has questioned the former president’s commitment to an abortion ban. While Trump’s three Supreme Court appointments enabled the high court to overturn the constitutional right to an abortion last year, Trump has faced blowback from anti-abortion-rights activists for refusing to commit to national abortion restrictions and for calling Florida’s signing of a six-week ban on the procedure a “terrible mistake.”

A majority of U.S. adults want abortion to be legal at least through the early stages of pregnancy, according to a July poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

DeSantis has infused his campaign with religious rhetoric and persistent outreach to white evangelicals but has said little about how he practices his own Catholic faith. He met with Vander Plaats earlier this year in Tallahassee, the Florida capital.

In response to Vander Plaat’s endorsement, Trump’s campaign said the former president is backed by more than 150 faith leaders in Iowa.

Let’s hope that Vander Plaat’s endorsement streak continues!


The Chaos at OpenAI

Dear Commons Community,

If they had been the plot of a science fiction movie, or an episode of “Succession,” the events at OpenAI last weekend would have seemed a little over-the-top.

A secret board coup! Fears of killer A.I.! A star C.E.O., betrayed by his chief scientist! A middle-of-the-night staff revolt that threatens to change the balance of global tech power!

If you haven’t been paying attention to all the twists and turns in the saga, that’s OK. It’s been a confusing ride, with lots of complex jargon and hard-to-follow details.

But it’s an important story, even if you’re not particularly interested in A.I. If you’ve ever used ChatGPT or drawn a picture with DALL-E 3, or if you care about whether powerful A.I. systems might someday threaten human survival, all of that is wrapped up in the drama at OpenAI, the country’s most prominent maker of artificial intelligence.  Here is an analysis courtesy of Kevin Roose, technical writer for The New York Times.

Here’s what you need to know:

Why did this happen?

OpenAI’s board fired its chief executive, Sam Altman, in a surprise on Friday. The board’s explanation — that Altman had not been completely candid with them — was vague and opaque. (See Note below).

We still don’t know exactly what happened between Altman and the board. But OpenAI’s unusual governance structure — it is run by a nonprofit board that controls a for-profit subsidiary and can vote to replace its leaders — allowed the board to fire Altman without explaining itself.

What was the coup about?

The coup was led by Ilya Sutskever, OpenAI’s chief scientist, who had butted heads with Altman. Sutskever wants the company to prioritize safety and was worried that Altman was more focused on growth.

Sutskever is among a faction of A.I. experts who are fearful that A.I. may soon surpass human abilities and become a threat to our survival. Several of OpenAI’s board members have ties to effective altruism, a philosophical movement that has made preventing these threats a top priority. Altman has concerns about A.I. risks, too. But he has also expressed optimism that A.I. will be good for society, and a desire to make progress more quickly. That may have put him at odds with the safety-minded board members, whose job is to see that powerful A.I. is developed responsibly.

What’s happened since the coup?

Over the weekend, it looked as though Altman might return to OpenAI, under the condition that major changes were made to the board. That didn’t happen. Instead, late on Sunday night, the board affirmed its decision, writing in a memo to employees that Altman’s “behavior and lack of transparency in his interactions with the board undermined the board’s ability to effectively supervise the company in the manner it was mandated to do.”

The board then appointed Emmett Shear — the former chief executive of Twitch, a livestreaming company — to be OpenAI’s second interim C.E.O. in just a few days. (Mira Murati, the chief technology officer, had been given the job, only to lose it after signaling her support for Altman.)

In response, Microsoft — OpenAI’s biggest investor and a major strategic partner — offered to give Altman and his top lieutenant, Greg Brockman, a job running a new A.I. lab. Nearly all of OpenAI’s roughly 770 employees signed a letter threatening to quit and go work for the new Microsoft team, unless the start-up’s board resigned and brought back Altman and Brockman.

In another surprise twist, Sutskever then had second thoughts. He wrote in a post on X on Monday that he deeply regretted having taken part in the ouster and that he had “never intended to harm OpenAI.” He also signed the letter pledging to follow Altman and Brockman to Microsoft unless the board reversed its decision.

That sounds messy! But why does this matter to the rest of us?

Corporate infighting is not new. But what makes the OpenAI story stand out is the stakes. OpenAI is no ordinary company. It built ChatGPT, one of the fastest-growing tech products of all time, and it employs many of the top A.I. researchers.

The company is also unusually ambitious and saw its role as building a digital superintelligence that would eventually become more powerful than humans. In addition, Altman was a well-liked leader and a figurehead for the A.I. industry, making the board’s decision to oust him even more of a mystery.

In a larger sense, what’s happening at OpenAI is a proxy for one of the biggest fights in the global economy today: how to control increasingly powerful A.I. tools, and whether large companies can be trusted to develop them responsibly.

Chaos indeed!


NOTE:  After I posted the above, it was reported that Sam Altman was being reinstated as CEO of OpenAI.

President John F. Kennedy Was Assassinated 60 Years Ago Today!

President John Kennedy and first lady Jacqueline Kennedy just before he was assassinated in downtown Dallas on November 22, 1963.

Dear Commons Community,

On this day in history, Nov. 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy — the 35th president of the United States — was assassinated while riding in an open-car motorcade in downtown Dallas, Texas.

The shocking event of 60 years ago happened near the end of JFK’s third year as president.

Riding in the same car as Kennedy and first lady Jacqueline Kennedy was Texas Gov. John B. Connally, as well as Connally’s wife, Nellie Connally.

That same day, the suspect in the shooting, Lee Harvey Oswald, was arrested. Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in as president that day as well as the stunned nation absorbed the blow of so suddenly and violently losing its elected president.

Crowds of excited people lined the streets of Dallas and waved to the Kennedys that day, as the JFK Library’s website notes of the president’s campaign event — one of several — that day in Texas.

“The car turned off Main Street at Dealey Plaza around 12:30 p.m. As it was passing the Texas School Book Depository, gunfire suddenly reverberated in the plaza,” the website also details.

“Bullets struck the president’s neck and head and he slumped over toward Mrs. Kennedy. The governor was shot in his back.”

Right after the shooting, “the car sped off to Parkland Memorial Hospital just a few minutes away,” the JFK Library’s website also notes.

“But little could be done for the president. A Catholic priest was summoned to administer the last rites, and at 1:00 p.m. John F. Kennedy was pronounced dead.”

Gov. Connally had been seriously wounded but later recovered.

“The president’s body was brought to Love Field and placed on Air Force One,” the website also notes.

“Before the plane took off, a grim-faced Lyndon B. Johnson stood in the tight, crowded compartment and took the oath of office, administered by U.S. District Court Judge Sarah Hughes.”

The time was 2:38 p.m.

Bob Huffaker, a former reporter at KRLD Radio in Dallas, was an eyewitness to the shooting, according to Reuters.

“It looked as though the entire city had turned up,” said Huffaker about that day in November. “It was really great. Dallas had shown that it really loved that president.”

Another eyewitness, Hugh Aynesworth, a former reporter for the Dallas Morning News, said, “Then I heard what I thought was a motorcycle backfiring, only it wasn’t — it was the first shot, and then in a few seconds, another shot and a third,” also according to Reuters.

Said the famed Walter Cronkite of CBS News that day during an on-camera news bulletin that broke into the then-in-progress “As The World Turns” soap opera on the network: “From Dallas, Texas, the flash apparently official, President Kennedy died at 1:00 p.m. Central Standard Time, 2 o’clock Eastern Standard Time, some 38 minutes ago.”

Less than an hour before that, however, police arrested Lee Harvey Oswald, “a recently hired employee at the Texas School Book Depository,” the JFK Library’s website says.

“He was being held for the assassination of President Kennedy and the fatal shooting, shortly afterward, of Patrolman J. D. Tippit on a Dallas street.”

Then, on Sunday morning, Nov. 24, “Oswald was scheduled to be transferred from police headquarters to the county jail. Viewers across America watching the live television coverage suddenly saw a man aim a pistol and fire at point-blank range.”

Adds the website of the caught-on-camera crime, “The assailant was identified as Jack Ruby, a local nightclub owner. Oswald died two hours later at Parkland Hospital.”

That same day, President Kennedy’s “flag-draped casket was moved from the White House to the Capitol on a caisson drawn by six [gray] horses, accompanied by one riderless black horse,” the library also notes.

“Crowds lined Pennsylvania Avenue and many wept openly as the caisson passed.”

“During the 21 hours that the president’s body lay in state in the Capitol Rotunda, about 250,000 people filed by to pay their respects.”

On Monday, Nov. 25, 1963, Kennedy was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery.

“The funeral was attended by heads of state and representatives from more than 100 countries, with untold millions more watching on television. Afterward, at the grave site, Mrs. Kennedy and her husband’s brothers, Robert and Edward, lit an eternal flame.”

Any American alive at the time and watching can likely still recall one of the “most indelible images of the day”: the salute by a young child to his father (John F. Kennedy Jr. was only three years old at the time), plus “daughter Caroline kneeling next to her mother at the president’s bier, and the extraordinary grace and dignity shown by Jacqueline Kennedy,” writes the JFK library’s website.

Many unanswered questions remain to this day about Kennedy’s assassination.

I remember the day and hour as if it was yesterday.

Our country was never the same!




New Book:  “The MANIAC” by Benjamin Labatut

Dear Commons Community,

I have just finished reading The MANIAC by Benjamin Labatut.  The title refers jointly to John von Neumann and the MANIAC computer that he developed. While officially labelled as fiction, all of the characters are real people revealing details of John von Neumann’s life and death and his contributions to computer science, game theory, artificial intelligence, and the development of nuclear weapons.  The first two thirds are all about von Neumann, his genius, his abrasiveness, and his colleagues.  He is on a lifelong quest to prove that “mathematics is the closest we can come to the mind of Hashem (God.)” His death of cancer at the age of 54 is very detailed.

The last third of the book focuses on the development of DeepMind’s AI program AlphaGo and the South Korean Go master Lee Sedol.  von Neumann is never mentioned in these last eighty pages (out of 354 total pages.)  Labatut is attempting to show that DeepMind and its AI programs are beginning to push beyond human intelligence.

A most interesting read. Try it if you are at all interested in von Neumann, the early development of digital computing, and AI.

Below is an excellent review that appeared in The Washington Post.  I give credit to the reviewer, Becca Rothfeld.  This was not an easy book to review.



The Washington Post


Benjamín Labatut’s captivating book explores the frontiers of human invention, including artificial intelligence

Review by Becca Rothfeld

September 21, 2023 at 4:43 p.m.

In 1810, the German Romantic and incurable neurotic Heinrich von Kleist published a short and haunting fable. The narrator is strolling in the park when he sees a dancer watching a puppet show. At first, he is surprised that a living artist is transfixed by mere marionettes, but the dancer is vehement that the wooden troupe has surpassed its human counterpart. Indeed, the dancer claims that the sole flaw is the bumbling puppeteer. When this final “fraction of spirit” is expunged — when the puppets pass “completely into the realm of mechanical forces” — they will at last attain the uncanny perfection unique to inanimate things. The greatest grace of all, the dancer concludes, appears only “in the form of a manikin, or a god.” The former is unconscious; the latter boasts “infinite consciousness.”

Like Kleist’s dancer, the geniuses who fascinate the Chilean author Benjamín Labatut dream of abdicating their personhood to become gods and machines. In his last book, the captivating and unclassifiable “When We Cease to Understand the World” (2021), 20th-century scientists on the verge of making dizzying discoveries chafe against the limits of the human perspective. The astronomer Karl Schwarzschild devises black hole theory and longs to peer into the utter opacity of the abysses he studies, while the physicists Werner Heisenberg and Erwin Schrödinger are racked by mystical visions as they develop the sibylline formulas of quantum mechanics. In order to understand their unnerving new reality, all three scientists must become more — and less — than human.

Labatut’s latest virtuosic effort, at once a historical novel and a philosophical foray, is a thematic sequel, an exploration of what results when we take reason to even further extremes. The resident genius of “The MANIAC” is the polymath and pioneering computer scientist John von Neumann, who displays “a sinister, machinelike intelligence.” When he is lost in thought, it is as if gears are whirring, but it is also as if “the divine reaches down to touch the Earth.”


As the book’s many narrators relate, often with a touch of resentment, the mathematician was in every respect “an alien among us.” He could see into other worlds, but he could not tie his shoes. “Spiritually, he was an ignoramus,” a colleague complains. But even if he could not perform basic practical tasks, or comprehend the inconsistency and capriciousness of his irrational species, he routinely executed intellectual feats that would have been the capstones of any other thinker’s career: He helped to invent game theory, laid out the mathematical foundations of quantum physics, predicted how RNA would prove to communicate with DNA when the double helix was discovered a decade later and fantasized about artificial intelligence long before it materialized in its more sophisticated guises.

The MANIAC of Labatut’s title is the “Mathematical Analyzer, Numerical Integrator and Computer,” an early computer designed by von Neumann in the 1950s. But it is also von Neumann himself.

Is “The MANIAC” a work of fiction? Or do we call it fiction because we lack a better word for its creative conquest of fact? Most critics tasked with rendering Labatut recognizable liken him to the melancholic German writer W.G. Sebald, whose gently meandering novels contain long, dreamy meditations on destruction and decay. It is true that both authors toe the wavering line between invention and history, drawing on a wealth of historical and scientific details, but Labatut is that vanishingly uncommon thing: a contemporary writer of thrilling originality. Even more than “When We Cease to Understand the World,” “The MANIAC” is a work of dark, eerie and singular beauty.

It can also be difficult to read. The book is narrated by a cluttered polyphony of characters, among them both of von Neumann’s wives and a number of his teachers and colleagues. But there is a reason for this mad mumble of voices. “A perspective is by nature limited. It offers us one single vision of a landscape,” wrote the mathematician-turned-mystic Alexander Grothendieck, one of the ambivalent heroes of “When We Cease to Understand the World.” “Only when complementary views of the same reality combine are we capable of achieving fuller access to the knowledge of things.” Like von Neumann, “The MANIAC” strives to adopt the impartial standpoint of the universe.

But even the most agile human minds struggle when they reach the furthest outposts of rationality, and “The MANIAC” follows three fraught exchanges between people and icily impersonal forms of intelligence. First comes a physicist so defiantly human that he cannot stand to relinquish the neatly ordered Newtonian universe to the ravages of the quantum revolution; second comes a mathematician who can seem to be more of a machine than a man; finally, we are left with a gleaming computer capable of outsmarting its makers.

Labatut begins with the Austrian physicist Paul Ehrenfest, who could not reconcile himself to the lunacy of the 20th century. In 1933, shortly after Hitler came to power, he fell into a manic depression and shot his disabled son in the head, then turned the gun on himself. He had every reason to fear that the Nazis, who were already gesturing toward their notorious “euthanasia program,” would subject his child to an even crueler end — but in Labatut’s telling, he was also terrified of the chaos that quantum physics had unleashed upon the world. “If one were to believe the novel rules governing the inner realm of the atom,” Labatut writes, “the entire world was no longer as solid and real as it once was.” Ehrenfest could not stand to see the old adamantine certainties crumbling into dust.

Von Neumann, in contrast, was just inhuman enough to embrace the derangements of the giddy new science. Born to a wealthy Jewish family in Hungary, he had systemized the mathematics undergirding Heisenberg and Schrödinger’s quantum innovations by the time he turned 30. But he could not linger to relish his achievement. As Europe veered toward catastrophe, he fled his home country and took refuge alongside other luminaries in exile, among them Albert Einstein, at Princeton’s legendary Institute for Advanced Study.

His critics accused him of adapting all too readily to his adoptive country, with its flair for pugilistic grandstanding. Throughout the Cold War, he rented out his once-in-a-generation brain to IBM, the Rand Corp. and the CIA. Even when he was dreaming up the most fantastic devastations — designing hydrogen bombs at the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos, for instance, or trying to engineer a model that would allow the U.S. military to control the weather (one of his rare failures) — he was chillingly indifferent to the human cost of his cool calculations.

But even this unfeeling colossus would come to harbor reservations about the nascent discipline of computer science. “Technological power … is an ambivalent achievement,” he wrote with surprising lyricism near the end of his life. “It is not a particular perverse destructiveness of one particular invention that creates danger. … For progress there is no cure.” Nor for mortality, and Labatut observes that von Neumann lost the glint of machinery on his deathbed. For the first time in his life, he was “just like any other man.”

The final and most extraordinary segment of “The MANIAC” has two protagonists. The first is the South Korean prodigy Lee Sedol, a master of the enormously complex game of Go — which has so many possible game states that, to model them, computer scientists would need “more space than is available in the known universe.” The second is AlphaGo, a computer program designed by the AI research laboratory DeepMind. When the two faced off in a tournament in 2016, one onlooker scribbled in his notebook in horror: “not a human move.” AlphaGo was also decidedly not a human victor. Sedol lost four of five games, but his opponent did not gloat or boast. Strictly speaking, it did not even care.

Labatut’s characters are all agonizingly human in one respect, no matter how hard they are trying to become machines: They care immensely. They are desperate to get to the bottom of things, all the way to the entrails of reality. In “When We Cease to Understand the World,” a pair of mathematicians go insane in their quest to reach “the heart of the heart,” the fundamental substratum of mathematics, and in “The MANIAC,” Sedol painstakingly dissects each of his games, even the ones that he wins, in a frenzied attempt to understand them exhaustively. Meanwhile, von Neumann is willing to dispense with everything — decorum, ethics, love and, ultimately, sanity — to reach “the leaping point, the heart of the matter.” One of Labatut’s characters confesses that the scientists at Los Alamos were driven not by the desire to win the arms race but by a darker instinct: “the joy of thinking the unthinkable.”

To think the unthinkable is not a matter of rote mechanical calculation. Something closer to revelation is required. Labatut recounts that Georg Cantor, famed for his revolutionary research into the nature of infinity, believed that his insights were a product of “divine intervention,” and another mathematician in “The MANIAC” reflects that “mathematics is the closest we can come to the mind of Hashem.”

It is dangerous for a mortal to approach the mind of God, and it is no surprise that everyone in Labatut’s fiction is always going mad, even the figures mentioned only in passing. Cantor “struggled with increasingly strong episodes of uncontrollable mania, attacks that were followed by deep melancholy”; Kurt Gödel “started seeing ghosts, and became convinced that other mathematicians were intent on killing him.” Even the unflappable von Neumann died of cancer that eventually ate away at his brain, until at last he was raving.

The worst part of these dark tales, though, is not that reason revolts when it is pressed too far but that the world turns out to be disordered, down to its very seams. In “When We Cease to Understand the World,” the demon crouching at the end of Schrödinger and Heisenberg’s neat rows of equations is the insuperable uncertainty of quantum physics; in “The MANIAC,” von Neumann’s efforts to get to “the heart of the heart” of mathematics are thwarted by Gödel’s incompleteness theorems, which demonstrate that there is “no way to unearth the logical foundations that he so desperately wanted to find.” Tumult is not an affront to human reason but its logical culmination. The only way to transcend confusion is to transcend human cognition itself.

When AlphaGo faced off against Sedol, it was apparent that the two of them were playing different games. “AlphaGo did not hesitate and it never thought twice,” Labatut writes. “It was immune to weariness. It knew no self-doubt. It cared not for style or beauty, and it did not waste time with any of the elaborate mind games that all professional players bait each other with.” In other words, it was boring, devoid of the drama and personality with which people invest their contests and competitions. After all, who would care about the outcome of a match between two rival automatons, themselves incapable of caring? Yet more than 200 million people, in Labatut’s telling, tuned into the AlphaGo tournament to watch Sedol, a human master.

They were not disappointed. In the fourth game of the five-game series, he made a move so inventive and so unexpected that it threw AlphaGo into disarray. “It was as if Lee Sedol had just won a victory for our entire species,” Labatut writes. Onlookers were moved to tears.

Some spectators believed he had become a deity. “The hand of God! That is a divine move!” another Go champion shouted. When the team behind AlphaGo plugged Sedol’s move into the algorithm, they suggested that perhaps he had become not a god but a machine: Only “one in ten thousand people” would think to play as he had, “exactly the same probability that AlphaGo had assigned to its own groundbreaking move” in an earlier game. But when asked what he had been thinking, Sedol could only muster an appeal to that most mysterious and least rational of faculties: “sheer inspiration,” as Labatut puts it.

“Go is not a game or a sport, it is an art form,” Labatut writes. But art is limned with meaning by our efforts, our failings and our pathologies. If computers can make something resembling art — and increasingly, of course, they can — it is only an ersatz imitation. Someone should have told the team behind AlphaGo what the narrator of Kleist’s tale should have told the dancer so enamored of lifeless and unerring marionettes: The miracle is not the quality of the dance, but the flawed and fallible human being straining to perform it.


Advertisers Fleeing X as Outcry Over Elon Musk’s Endorsement of Antisemitic Post Grows!

Apple, Disney and IBM were among the companies that suspended advertising on X.

Dear Commons Community,

The reverberation over Elon Musk’s endorsement of an antisemitic conspiracy theory on X continues to gather steam as major advertisers on his social media platform cut off their spending after his comments.

Disney said it was pausing spending on X, as did Lionsgate, the entertainment and film distribution company, and Paramount Global, the media giant that owns CBS. Apple, which spends tens of millions of dollars a year on X, also suspended advertising on the platform, a person with knowledge of the situation said. They followed IBM, which cut its spending with X on Thursday.  As reported by The New York Times.

Mr. Musk, who bought Twitter last year and renamed it X, has been under scrutiny for months for allowing and even stoking antisemitic abuse on the site. That snowballed on Wednesday when the tech billionaire agreed with a post on X that accused Jewish people who are facing antisemitism amid the Israel-Hamas war of pushing the “exact kind of dialectical hatred against whites that they claim to want people to stop using against them” and supporting the immigration of “hordes of minorities.” 

“You have said the actual truth,” Mr. Musk replied.

Jewish groups have compared the statement in the original post to a belief known as replacement theory, a conspiracy theory that posits that nonwhite immigrants, organized by Jews, intend to replace the white race. That idea fueled Robert Bowers, who raged against Jewish people online before killing 11 worshipers at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018.

On Friday, the White House condemned Mr. Musk, 52, for boosting the anti-Jewish conspiracy theory. Andrew Bates, a White House spokesman, said in a statement that it was “unacceptable to repeat the hideous lie behind the most fatal act of antisemitism in American history at any time, let alone one month after the deadliest day for the Jewish people since the Holocaust.”

An X spokesman declined to comment on the advertising pauses, and Apple didn’t respond. Axios reported earlier on Apple’s decision, and Bloomberg reported earlier on the Lionsgate suspension.

Linda Yaccarino, X’s chief executive, posted on the site on Thursday that the company had been “extremely clear about our efforts to combat antisemitism and discrimination.” But on Friday, Mr. Musk agreed with a post on X that suggested advertisers like IBM were pulling back from the platform to save face.

He later said accounts that made “clear calls for extreme violence” would be suspended, highlighting two phrases associated with Palestinian supporters that would not be tolerated on the site.

Advertisers have been skittish about X since Mr. Musk bought the social media service last fall and said he wanted more free speech and would loosen content moderation rules. That meant the platform could theoretically place brands’ ads next to posts with offensive or hateful speech.

Many companies, including General Motors and Volkswagen, have balked at various points over the past year at having their promotions appear alongside a heavily documented surge in hate speech, misinformation and foreign propaganda on X. In April, Mr. Musk said nearly all advertisers had returned, without indicating whether they were spending at the same levels; he later noted that ad revenue had fallen 50 percent.

Mr. Musk also swung from threatening any advertisers that dared to pause their spending with a “thermonuclear name & shame” to wooing them by choosing Ms. Yaccarino, a former top ad executive at NBCUniversal, to replace him as chief executive. He picked public fights with major spenders like Apple and churned through sales executives given the task of maintaining relationships in the advertising industry. Top advertising companies, such as IPG, urged their clients to step back from X.

Advertising had long been about 90 percent of Twitter’s revenue before Mr. Musk bought the company. Last month, X told employees that the company was valued at $19 billion. That was down from the $44 billion that Mr. Musk paid.

The heightened sensitivity around antisemitism, Mr. Musk’s penchant for public squabbling and general fatigue after months of fuss over X left many advertising professionals hesitant to weigh in on Friday.

“Clients have always had to make decisions about content they will or will not be associated with,” Renee Miller, the founder of the Miller Group advertising agency in Los Angeles, said in an email. “We generally counsel our clients to not take an openly public political stand.”

IBM, which cut off about $1 million in advertising spending that it had committed to X for the rest of the year, said on Thursday that it had “zero tolerance for hate speech and discrimination.” The tech company acted after a report this week from Media Matters for America, a left-wing advocacy group, which said ads from companies including Apple and IBM were appearing on X next to posts supporting white nationalism and Nazism. 

Musk posted late Thursday that “Media Matters is an evil organization.”

Musk appears confused as to what “evil’ means!