Climate change denial in the age of artificial intelligence

  • Published on December 15th, 2017

Whenever we see supposedly grassroots but pro-fossil fuel messages on the internet, our first thought is to follow the money. There is rarely an occasion when the effort isn’t fossil-fuel funded. But seems that the American Coal Council is hoping not everyone is quite so jaded as we are. Joshua Learn at S&P Global reported Monday that the coal lobby is looking at ways to exploit social media to engage the youth, hoping to use social media to create the appearance of grassroots support for their product.

tom toles coal pollutionBy Climate Denier Roundup

They’re going a step further than that though, by invoking a book that deniers (and conservatives) hate: Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals. As Learn reports, a recent webcast from the American Coal Council suggests industry use Alinsky’s suggestions to reverse the “haves vs have nots” narrative used by “anti-coal groups” and recast the coal industry as the true underdog. Seems that the coal industry thinks millennials are stupid enough to fall for fossil fuel propaganda, as long as it appears to come from the accounts of totally radical dudes and dudettes.

Also stupid? AI, apparently. Alessandra Potenza at The Verge has a fun little story about the future demise of humanity at the hands of artificial intelligence. Apparently if you ask the $900 Jibo robot whether or not climate change is real, its answer is only that “I’ve heard that’s a complicated topic.”

There’s no reason for it to give such an evasive answer. Google and Siri apparently both direct users to NASA’s climate pages, which is certainly an improvement (at least until Trump scrubs those pages too.) Even better though is Alexa, the name-brand version of a friendly AI robot you can talk to (and basically acts as a surveillance system providing Amazon with all sorts of personal data and is constantly recording everything you say) gets the answer exactly right. According to Potenza, Alexa responds by referencing the 97% study.

As we were yet again reminded by a correspondence in Nature Human Behavior published earlier this week, the consensus message is one that works. Researchers found that once conservatives were told of the 97% consensus, it “reduced belief polarization by 50 percent.” The researchers posit that the human desire to conform to social norms is particularly strong in conservatives, who were shown to be more responsive than liberals to the consensus messaging.

Unfortunately, conservative leaders are still pretty committed to normalizing denial, and making sure everyone’s singing from the same hymnal. Sometimes, apparently, they’re a little too zealous to toe the politically correct line, as evidenced by Kathleen Hartnett White’s apparent plagiarism. In answering questions for the Senate, Hartnett White copy and pasted at least 18 answers from prior Trump appointees.

Say what you will about the “complicated” answer from the Jibo robot, at least it isn’t a plagiarist.

Making it vastly overqualified for the Trump administration.

(Originally appeared at DailyKos. Cartoon by Tom Toles at GoComics.)

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