Weekly Roundup 1/25/2011

Domestic use of aerial drones by law enforcement likely to prompt privacy debate
Peter Finn, The Washington Post, Jan. 23, 2011

Synopsis: Some federal, state and local law enforcement agencies are using low-flying aerial drones – unmanned, remote-controlled aircraft – to aid surveillance and pursuit not only in unpopulated border areas but also in urban centers. For now, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is limiting the use in the interest of air safety, but the agency is developing rules that may allow expanded use within a few years.

Takeaway: Law enforcement views the technology as effective and cost-efficient. Civil libertarians are worried: “What we don’t want to see is their pervasive use to watch over the American people.”

--Kenneth Jost, Supreme Court Editor, CQ Press; Associate Editor, CQ Researcher


"What IBM's Jeopardy Machine Can Teach Us: Humility"
Stephen Baker, Jan. 20, 2011

Synopsis: An IBM computer that's set to challenge Jeopardy super-champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter next month doesn't "think" the same way humans do. Rather than memorizing facts, the machine is programmed to treat every individual statement it's been fed as merely provisional -- not set in stone -- and to scan its memory for all related information before it states the answer that's most statistically probable, based on all the connections its memory contains. We humans, by contrast, quickly move many things we've "learned" into the "requires no further research" category. That mental practice allows us to retrieve answers faster, but it also likely contributes to making us the easily biased creatures that we are, speculates tech writer Baker.

Takeaway: "Our minds are full of 'facts' that appear to require no further research. It makes thinking easy, so easy in fact, that we're tempted to expand our universe of facts. We build beliefs. They can be about country music, literature, politics or religion. And in our minds, these beliefs often become facts as well: truths that are beyond debate."

-- Marcia Clemmitt, Staff Writer


The Rise of the New Ruling Class: How the Global Elite is Leaving You Behind
Chrystia Freeland, The Atlantic, January/February, 2011

Sympathy for those who haven’t grabbed a big share of the ever-globalizing world’s wealth isn’t running strong among those who are swimming in newly created riches. So reports Freeland, a Financial Times reporter who has been spending the past several years among the new rich. They tend to be creators of their own fortunes, as opposed to stewards of riches spawned by their forbears. One result is that their attitude tends to be: We made it, and if you didn’t, it’s your problem. One Internet tycoon told Freeland that the American middle class makes foreign labor a far more attractive option for employers. “We demand a higher paycheck than the rest of the world,” he said. “So if you’re going to demand 10 times the paycheck, you need to deliver 10 times the value. It sounds harsh, but maybe people in the middle class need to decide to take a pay cut.” There’s much more to this sharp and insightful piece. If you’re wondering, for example, how good life at the top can be – it can be very, very good.

--Peter Katel, Staff Writer