The Night Light with Joshua Johnson
The Night Light with Joshua Johnson
Episode 10: Artificial Intelligence, and Civic Ignorance
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Episode 10: Artificial Intelligence, and Civic Ignorance
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In this episode I’m thinking about the way we think, and about the machines that are learning to think.

gray and orange plastic robot toy

First, I share my thoughts on artificial intelligence. This week the Senate met with some of Silicon Valley’s AI leaders and major CEOs. They mostly listened, getting a crash course in machine learning. The consensus: yes, we absolutely do need regulations to prevent whatever AI might unleash. Whether you have a utopian, dystopian, goofy or insane vision of that, we’ve all got lots of questions about what this technology can do. To be honest, we really don’t know yet. We know it can do a lot of pretty impressive things, including write college admissions applications (though, not very well), but the potential for division and destruction is hard to ignore.

If you’re concerned that AI will truly give the human intellect a run for its money… I’m not so sure that’s what the tech sector is going for. Yes, these computers are learning to cogitate at an increasingly high level, but that’s not the same as “intelligence” as I see it. There’s one human quality that, apparently, the industry is either not working toward or doesn’t see as a priority. I’ll tell you what I mean in the first part of this episode.

Then we shift gears to our democracy. September 17th is Constitution Day: the anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution. If you didn’t know that factoid, don’t worry: there’s way more constitutional ignorance to be worried about. I started thinking about this after seeing an Instagram video that made me laugh my head off. Then it made me cringe.

Granted, I don’t mind someone asking why you can’t just get an AA degree in “Jury Dutery”, but… damn, that’s a lot of stupid in one place.

Turns out, it’s a comedian doing a bit. And honestly, he raised a fair question. Why do average people do jury duty, instead of expert jurists? That’s the value of learning civics in school. I’ve got a lot to say about our civic knowledge — our understanding of the rights and responsibilities of citizens — as well as my ideas for what a modern civics curriculum should look like.

Apparently, a lot of full-grown adults either don’t know, forgot or never learned these things either. For example: the First Amendment protects five freedoms. Can you name them all? A new survey shows only 5% of adults surveyed knew them all. 20% knew none of them. The findings weren’t all bad, though: two-thirds of respondents knew the three branches of government.

It’s easy to despair over the relative cluelessness of some of our fellow Americans, but the Founders kind of saw this coming. The difficulty of making this highly imperfect nation “more perfect” is not a bug… it’s a feature. Knowing more about that might give you some comfort. I’ll explain in the second half of the show.

HEADS-UP: HIATUS UNTIL MID-OCTOBER

When I started this podcast I knew it would be challenging to get off the ground, especially working by myself. I had no idea it would be this intensive and draining, despite having built a number of programs in the past for various broadcasters. This is a whole ‘nother level of challenge. With ten episodes done, each one slowly growing in audience over the one before it, now is a good time to take stock and catch my breath. So The Night Light with Joshua Johnson will be on hiatus for a few weeks, roughly until mid-October. I’ll be researching new content, reading, booking interviews, and working on another project I’ve been cooking up.

Paid subscribers will see a little more of me, though: another Ask Me Anything live streamed on YouTube. This one is just for the paid members — a perk that comes with the subscription. Keep an eye on your inbox for date/time/link information.

In the meantime, thank you as always for your support. The love I’ve felt from you, and the appreciation for this arduous work, has kept me going during some tough times. It means the world to me, and I’m grateful. Hope the end of summer has been good to you, and I look forward to getting back “on air” very soon.

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The Night Light with Joshua Johnson

The Night Light with Joshua Johnson

America feels dark these days. It's time for us to shine. Let's unpack taboos, demystify big issues and debate solutions with people who put connection above politics.