An Open Note to Lex Fridman


            The best thing about the pandemic? I’ve discovered podcasts. One of the best is Lex Fridman’s, called, simply, Lex Fridman Podcast.
            Fridman is a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology specializing in machine learning. He began the podcast in 2018, with a focus on artificial intelligence. Given his location, he has access to scholars in many disciplines. In recent months, he’s broadened his range, and now seeks to model an open-minded and loving sense of engagement with a world filled with wonder. He is an antidote to the screaming that typifies so much of our public discussion on cable news and the internet.
           Episode 163, aired this week, is a wide-ranging interview with Eric Weinstein, a Ph.D. mathematician and managing director of Thiel Capital. If you’re looking for a non-polemical introduction to what’s at stake in the current culture wars, listen to it. It’s long – 2.5 hours, but worth the effort.
            What struck me about the interview with Weinstein, the fourth time Fridman had him on the show, was the discussion of my client, Alex Jones, founder and principal of Infowars.
            Jones’s name comes up repeatedly in discussions about freedom of speech, conspiracy theories, the internet and populism. He has been de-platformed by the mainstream social media companies, and is generally held out to be a purveyor of “hate” speech.
              I’ve never understood the demonization of Jones.
.         I’m drawn to bold and vigorous expression. If I don’t like what you have to say, I don’t have to listen. But the moment a censor says I cannot listen, my interest increases: What is it the censor doesn’t want me to hear and why? I don’t fear the bold and eccentric; I fear the censor.
            Fridman and Weinstein, who has his own podcast, were talking about the importance of free speech, the dangers of censorship, and current climate of what I will call puritan authoritarianism, all in the context of big tech's increasing control of the means of communication. I found much to agree with in what they were discussing. Then Weinstein started to talk about the United States Supreme Court and free speech. Again, I found his discussion interesting, if out of focus. He’s a mathematician, after all, and not a lawyer.
            To date, Fridman has yet to have a guest on his podcast who does justice to the intersection of artificial intelligence and the law. Among the topics unaddressed is whether AI has the potential to make visible Adam Smith’s “invisible hand,” and whether an we might arrive at a state of maximum efficiency of distribution of resources at less than full employment? Whether general concepts of liability on both the civil and criminal side make sense in a world in which machines make decisions on our behalf that we do not understand? Whether augmented activity – the combination of human and machine capacities – makes necessary a new conception of legal personhood? Does AI threaten our sense of legitimacy based on consent?
          I could go on and on. (I’ve listened to about 25 of his podcasts, and am now listening to them all from the beginning.) I’m frustrated by the lack of such a discussion. AI is a tsunami breaking on the horizon, as it hits our shores, the law will be left to pick up the pieces. We need to begin a broader discussion of these issues now.
           The mention of Jones re-awakened my sense of frustration. Fridman values free speech, but would be reluctant to have Jones on as a guest. Why? Jones doesn’t force people to listen to him. He has broad appeal in the marketplace of ideas. What makes that possible? Why are folks drawn to a man so many love to hate?
          There are important truths to be learned here. Fridman, with his broad and catholic curiosity, ought to be open to learning them.
           So here’s an open challenge to Lex Fridman:
           Lex, do you want Alex as a guest? Say the word; I will arrange it. Jones appeared just last week on a Connecticut podcast hosted by former state rep. Kevin Skulczyck at News Rocky. He’s available. (See, https://www.facebook.com/newsrocky/videos/467792334403261)
           Or, Lex, if you need an overview of what Jones has to say, and his importance in the landscape of freedom of speech, call me. I’ve a writ pending for Jones in the United States Supreme Court. It’s time to begin a serious exploration of big tech, AI and the law, don’t you think?

        Check out Fridman at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ifX_JnBfxTY

Comments: (1)

  • The Free Speech dilemma
    Glad to see this topic brought up Norm. Sad to see acceptance of censorship and free speech attacks as the new normal. People need to wake up and object to it in civil discourse like you are trying to do. Keep it out there Norm.
    Posted on February 25, 2021 at 6:06 am by Doreen Maynard

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