“Racism in Artificial Intelligence”, Alix Jules on Atheists Talk

Once upon a time, we thought artificial intelligence would be less racist than people. After all, machines are objective, right? Then we started teaching them how to think and made some discoveries of our own. When racism permeates our society and our IT infrastructure, how do we teach machines to do better than we do?

This Sunday, we’re talking with Alix Jules about the point where technology, cognitive sciences, and sociology collide.

Related Links:

Listen to AM 950 KTNF Sundays at 9 a.m. Central to hear Atheists Talk, produced by Minnesota Atheists. Stream live online. Call in to the studio at 952-946-6205, or send an e-mail to [email protected] during the live show. If you miss the live show, listen to the podcast later.

Follow Atheists Talk on Facebook and Twitter for regular updates. If you like the show, consider supporting us with a one-time or sustaining donation. Or sign up on Patreon for exclusive content.

“Racism in Artificial Intelligence”, Alix Jules on Atheists Talk

The Limits of the Office

This was originally posted on Facebook in the wake of Trump’s at best awkward visit to England. It isn’t terribly profound, but I remain struck by the way Trump’s term in office makes us revisit what we know about governance because he’s so terrible at it.

What struck me yesterday, seeing Trump with Elizabeth, wasn’t that he didn’t know how to behave with royalty. I don’t either, though I’d study up if that were the job I’d signed up to do.

It struck me that Elizabeth is the embodiment of this bizarre, archaic institution of hereditary governance, that she sits on a throne that’s held rulers so bad they’ve prompted shifts in European philosophies of power, that her blood is the symbol of a country that has literally tried to take over the world.

What has she done with that? Mostly she’s embraced the small-c conservatism of the position, remained a symbol as a monarch. That leaves governance to the elected bodies and protects their claim to legitimacy of power. It isn’t a radical use of her power for good by any means, and she’s been very well compensated for it, partly through imperial (colonial) holdings. Still, that long period of stability has produced a real possibility that the British monarchy will end peacefully in another generation.

Oh, and then there was that time WWII happened and she badgered her da (the king) until he let her serve in an official military capacity along with her state duties. This too was largely symbolism, but her country recognized the power of that symbol.

Contrast that with Trump. The United States’ Constitution was written to be a radical change from and challenge to British imperial power. That we recognize many of its failures of imagination and courage now doesn’t change that it was meant to be a manifestation of the ideals of freedom and representative democracy.

Trump, on the other hand, acts as though his power is a divine right, as though any check on it were a personal affront. Anyone who challenges or criticizes him is a terrible person or illegitimate institution. The people who didn’t vote for him must not be real citizens, and he’ll see to it that they’re treated that way. His position is for personal enrichment, and if he sends the people of our country to war, well, so what? He and his won’t be fighting.

I’m not a fan of the queen. It says something about the direness of our situation that simply putting Trump next to her makes me admire her for being more than her position would allow her to be because he is so much less than his demands.

The Limits of the Office

Hear Ye, Hear Ye

While I wasn’t doing a lot of blogging here, I was still doing podcasts. If you’ve been missing me-related content, you can check out the interview I did with Monette Richards about Secular Woman:

You’d think that a movement that’s so focused on growing wouldn’t want to chase off a large chunk of their potential membership. You’d think an organization dedicated to supporting that constituency within the larger movement would be considered useful instead of unwanted. The history of Secular Woman demonstrates that reality is way more complicated than that. Today’s guest is Monette Richards, current president of Secular Woman.

If you enjoyed this show, we’d love to have you come back next week for another episode. You can catch Atheists Talk live, every Sunday Morning at 9am Central on AM950 KTNF online at http://www.am950radio.com/listen-live/ Contact us during the show with questions or comments at 952-946-6205 or contact us anytime via [email protected] or tweet us @atheiststalk

And the interview I did with Cory Johnston about issues in the skeptical movement:

Cory Johnston of the Brainstorm Podcast joins Stephanie Zvan to talk about skeptics failing to be skeptical in their public work and what he does to fight that on his podcasts.

And the interview I did with Alison Gill about the U.S. Secular Survey and about Project Blitz:

The nonreligious population of the U.S. has grown significantly in the last couple of decades. We’re relatively young. We’re only a minority non-believer. But who are we? What issues are important to us? What do we want from the secular organizations that represent us.

Today we’re talking with Alison Gill, American Atheists’ Vice President of Legal and Policy, about the U.S. Secular Survey. This is an ambitious survey with a goal of getting a better picture of American nonbelievers and other nonreligious populations, now and for the future.

There are also somewhat more irreverent extras for these available (or soon to be available) on the Atheists Talk Patreon, if you’d like to support us there.

If you’re looking to hear me talking, there are quite a few I haven’t promoted yet. I did an interview on Women Beyond Belief, where we talked about me for some reason. Kristi Winters and I chatted about the problem of sexism in the atheist movement. I joined the crew of Inciting Incident for their live 150th episode and said, “impeach”, rather a lot.

I watched Jurassic Park for the first time (yes, I know) and discussed it with A Reel Education. Cory Johnston and I sat down on Brainstorm Podcast for coffee, sort of. And I’ve been an irregular regular on Humans Holler at News.

Happy listening!

Hear Ye, Hear Ye

Secular “Mission Drift” and the Faith-Washing of Conservative Politics

I was on the Embrace the Void podcast earlier this month to talk about the state of the secular movement. As I discussed the concept of “mission drift”, I realized a problem with the idea. Rather, I realized another problem with the idea. It came up again this weekend, which means it’s time to write about it.

If you’re not familiar with arguments about “mission drift” in the secular movement, it’s a term often invoked by the same people who complain about identity politics. The basic idea is that U.S. secular groups who organize around or work on social and economic justice-related political issues are moving away from the core mission of the movement: maintaining and increasing the separation of church and state.

Those of us who do this activism have spoken at length about why it’s absurd to consider something like good education in science and critical thinking part of the core mission of the secular movement but to leave out feminism and anti-racism. Greta Christina ran an excellent series taking the arguments apart and drilling down to people’s actual objections. However, we haven’t talked in any depth about how ahistorical the argument is.

Organized religious interference in U.S. politics has always been about economic and social justice. That is its entire point. The story of building the religious right is a story that starts with religion being offered as a solution when more honest politicking had failed. Continue reading “Secular “Mission Drift” and the Faith-Washing of Conservative Politics”

Secular “Mission Drift” and the Faith-Washing of Conservative Politics

A Brief Timeline of Events in the David Silverman Firing

October 18, 2019 update: I was indeed missing something important. See the Q2 2018 Q&A in American Atheist below.

Sorry for the dead air. I’ve been both sick and working on other commitments. However, with the news that Atheist Alliance International has hired David Silverman into the executive director position they created for him, I do want to get this up.

What is this? This is a short summary of things that have been said about Silverman’s suspension and firing with dates (and some annotations) attached. There’s confusion about just what’s been alleged by whom aside from the allegations of sexual misconduct, and I’m already tired of trying to straighten that out on a piecemeal basis. So here’s a timeline I can send people to. It’s probably missing some important statements now that I’ll add as I remember or am pointed to them.

2018 Timeline

April 10: American Atheists’ announcement of suspension

On the evening of Saturday, April 7, 2018, the American Atheists Board of Directors received a complaint regarding David Silverman, the President of American Atheists. The Board takes very seriously the concerns expressed and, in accordance with organization policies, the Board has placed Mr. Silverman on paid leave while an independent investigation is conducted. Mr. Silverman has pledged his full cooperation with the investigation.

April 11: Nick Fish’s statement to Christian Post

The allegations relate to alleged violations of the American Atheists employee code of conduct and staff handbook. Because this is a personnel matter, we cannot go into any more specifics about the allegations.

April 13: American Atheists’ announcement of firing

The Board of Directors has reviewed internal documents and communications related to the initial complaint as well as evidence relating to the additional allegations brought to the Board’s attention. Today’s announcement is based on these findings, and the Board intends to cooperate with any future investigations.

American Atheists is committed to creating and maintaining an environment that is safe and welcoming to all. Based on the allegations made, and the evidence presented, the Board believes it is prudent and necessary to reaffirm that commitment and move forward with new leadership.

April 13: Buzzfeed article Continue reading “A Brief Timeline of Events in the David Silverman Firing”

A Brief Timeline of Events in the David Silverman Firing

Mock the Movie: Nothing to See Here Edition

This month’s movie has absolutely nothing to do with the failed “raid” on Area 51. Nope. Not at all. I can’t imagine why you’d even think so. And if you don’t find me convincing, just wait until you see The Disappearance of Flight 412. Alas, this was a television movie, so we don’t have trailers for it, but please…enjoy this little introduction.

This month’s selection is available on YouTube. Continue reading “Mock the Movie: Nothing to See Here Edition”

Mock the Movie: Nothing to See Here Edition

A Humanist Imperative Against Fear

I wrote this in 2015 for my patrons. I didn’t publish it then for several reasons. I wanted to let emotions settle so people might be able to hear this better, but there were other reasons I barely remember too. But watching the news of the Amber Guyger trial is making it all too relevant again.

One of the things that disturbed me most in the discussions that followed the terrorist murders of Charlie Hebdo staff early this year was the invocation by atheist activists of fear. It reminded me all too much of the days after thousands lost their lives in the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

I recognize a degree of strangeness to that. The point of a terrorist attack is to create fear in a group of people. It’s unsurprising when this works.

Nor is it surprising that activists would seize on this fear. Fear is an effective motivator, and inertia and indifference are the bane of activists. On top of that, the Charlie Hebdo attack targeted a group of activists who (among other things and using means that we should examine and question, as with any other activists) worked against the political power of Islamists. While not every atheist activist proclaimed, “Je suis Charlie“, it was entirely predictable that many would identify with the targets of the attack.

Still, I was uncomfortable. While I wasn’t as much embedded in the community of the fearful in 2001, it was impossible to miss the consequences of our national fear. In mere weeks and without analysis, we saw law passed that dramatically reduced protections against government surveillance. We were rushed into the Iraq War based on mischaracterized intelligence, a war which arguably increased the danger of radical Islamism rather than decreased it.

In our fear, we made the world a worse place–for ourselves and others. We may even have increased the likelihood of the Charlie Hebdo shootings. It wasn’t our goal, but that doesn’t change what happened.

We’re bad at sitting with fear. When we have any choice, our priority is to “fix” our fear, to make it go away. That may mean avoiding a situation that needs our attention. It may mean acting even when we have only poor-quality choices. What acting out of fear usually doesn’t mean is making good, evidence-based decisions that take the humanity and dignity of other people fully into account. Continue reading “A Humanist Imperative Against Fear”

A Humanist Imperative Against Fear