Andrew (perspectivism) wrote,

About today's Wired article on the Singularity Institute...

I'm on Eli's Singularity mailing list where the journalist (Declan McCullogh, who actually writes a lot of mainstream articles touching on Extropian topics) introduced himself a few weeks ago and began watching traffic.

Declan obviously likes Extropians and judges Eliezer in particular worth a several-screen story. Eli is not even famous for being not-quite-famous, so Declan independently saw something in him worth writing up. Nonetheless, Declan worked some sneering remarks into his story.

I wonder about journalists' apparent enthusiasm/cynicism relationship with their subject matter. I see it all the time, especially in tech news. First paragraph: A story plays up the importance of the subject and, by extension, the story itself. Second paragraph: Same story showcases the writer's supremely "independent" voice by nonetheless casting that subject in a most unflattering light.

Why is this so common? Why are writers or editors so attracted to the enthuse/dismiss pattern?

Is it an obligatory attempt to prove journalistic objectivity by expressing emotions only in equal and opposite pairs?

Is it an attempt to play alternately to each reader's presumed prejudices? To be all things to all dimly imagined people?

Are unusually sycophantic and resentful (yes, both!) individuals especially drawn to journalism as a profession?

Do most journalists really hate enthusiastic writing, and resent that their markets want stories to sell themselves with shows of self-important spirit?

Does the time-consuming process of researching and writing an article almost guarantee that its author will feel conflicted about his subject in the end?

Maybe journalists just don't understand their stories' subjects -- and temporarily adopting every available conflicting viewpoint is their way of guaranteeing that they can later say they were "right." There's a lot of anecdotal support for this theory! It is today almost cliche to point out that popular journalism, like Murray Rothbard, usually looks pretty good when it discusses any field other than one's own.

I can't resist pointing out the worst of this Wired piece that has so catalyzed my ranting. Check this (the full text of the story's third paragraph) for cluelessness:
This 750 KB treatise, released Wednesday, is not as much speculative as predictive. If a computer becomes sufficiently smart, the argument goes, and if it gains the ability to harm humans through nanotechnology or some means we don't expect, it may decide it doesn't need us or want us around.
Huge problems with that paragraph:

1) The treatise acknowledges -- and is largely predicated on! -- the fact that a "sufficiently smart" computer wouldn't need nanotech or anything else beyond a simple text-only Internet connection in a world like ours as of (say) 1997 to become hugely powerful.

2) In light of the paragraph's first sentence, it looks like the second sentence is a summary of the treatise. In fact, the treatise is about why and how "the ability to harm humans" should not scare us. The treatise's central thesis -- that AI can be built beneficial to all -- is the opposite of Wired's apparent summary.

3) "...not as much speculative as predictive" is bizarre! I'm not even sure what it's intended to mean. ("...not so much full-of-wild-guesses as soberly-treating-all-reasonably-possible-futures" is my guess as to what it's intended to mean.) Most importantly, this bizarre phrase choice passed up the opportunity to say something a lot more helpful to the reader like "...more about planning to do things right than predicting when and how they will happen", "...more of a business plan than an academic article", or even "...not so much predictive as preventative."

4) The treatise was actually "released Wednesday" only to some small communities of possible reviewers, including the Extropians' main mailing list. It is still prominently labeled v.0.9. The treatise has seen small waves of other selected preview releases over the last few months, and Wednesday's release was not even the first time Declan saw it. (For all I know, though, Declan may have sought and got permission from SI to run this story now rather than in a couple months with the treatise's planned public release.)
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