Hello, again my friends,
2019 is almost over, although it seemed like every day of this year contained enough news for a normal month, so there may still be a few surprises to come. It’s worth mentioning here at the start that this flood of crises and controversies can easily exhaust you, forcing you to tune out. But we cannot falter! Fighting for what you believe in is a marathon, but we must always be ready to sprint when the moment comes.
While I continued my usual advocacy and professional activities in human rights, artificial intelligence, and chess in 2019, much of my attention was dedicated to the Renew Democracy Initiative. American democracy is under direct assault and the battle has been joined in the impeachment process. Many presidents have evaded or bent the norms and rules in pursuit of their agenda. Policies like DACA and the Iran Deal, or the many violations of omission and commission before and during the Iraq War, for example.
But the Trump admin and its Congressional defenders have declared war on the rule of law and truth itself, seeking unchecked power for its own sake. RDI is not a political organization, so we are focused on projects that emphasize defending integrity in public office, civics education, and for the law to apply to everyone. This impeachment is a vital element in all of those causes. I’m happy to say that RDI is expanding rapidly and will be a serious force in promoting moderation, sanity, and the notion that citizens and government in a democracy must operate in good faith with one another.
Many of my 2019 op-eds were dedicated to using my background living in dictatorships and failing democracies to educate the Western public. I hasten to add that these are warnings, not predictions! I always say that I want people to stop telling me I was right and instead, to start proving me wrong. When I recently wrote for CNN that Trumpists were leading America into the post-truth world, reminiscent of the USSR of my past, my hope was that the process can still be reversed.
With so much going on, I’ve slid further into my amateur status as a chessplayer.
But the Grand Chess Tour continues to grow and succeed, with big plans for 2020 as well.
I learned a lot this year from my continuing collaborations with Avast Security and the Foundation for Responsible Robotics. Much of the global conversation about artificial intelligence has moved away from the technology—which is still relatively primitive—to the impacts and implications of increasingly complicated and autonomous algorithms on our lives. Especially the boom in conversations about “ethical AI,” which is often, if not always, a red herring. Machines cannot be more ethical than their creators. They are mirrors, and, like mirrors, can reveal our flaws, but they cannot fix them. We need to be vigilant, to keep a close eye on all the new threats to our privacy and safety before handing over too much power to these mighty algorithms. I remain an optimist about the promise of AI, what I call “augmented intelligence,” to enhance our minds the way a telescope extends our vision. But for this to happen we must keep it pointed at the stars and be ambitious.
That was my message for the Internet 50 event at UCLA on October 29. My friend Leonard Kleinrock was the man who 50 years ago sent the first message over what would eventually become the globe-spanning internet, and he invited me to give the closing speech to an audience of tech luminaries. I reminded them that another 50th anniversary had just happened, but these days we are more likely to celebrate the iPhone 11, not a new Apollo 11. We used to have great dreams without the tech to realize them. Now we have incredible tech, but our dreams have become small. What, I asked, will the next generations celebrate from 2019 fifty years from now?
I wish I knew, and that I would be there in 2069 to find out! But we can do everything we can to give them something great to look back on, and a world that is safe, free and prosperous in which to do it.
Best wishes and Happy New Year!