“The first step is to remind our students and colleagues that those who hold views contrary to one’s own are rarely evil or stupid, and may know or understand things that we do not. It is only when we start with this assumption that rational discourse can begin, and that the winds of freedom can blow." – Former Stanford Provost John Etchemendy
From Our Latest Newsletter
February 19, 2024
Artificial Intelligence Will Censor Speech at Scale, Bias Included
Excerpts (links in the original):
“Until recently, many efforts to censor and suppress speech have required manual labor; human beings have been tasked to put their eyeballs on the page and then decide what stuff gets to remain. In the good old days, books were banned this way. Now, those eyeballs are turned toward the virtual spaces online, an environment that is much more unwieldy to monitor and control....
“With the advent of machine learning, the government will now be able to control speech using Artificial Intelligence (AI). The House Judiciary Committee and the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government have obtained ‘non-public documents’ proving the NSF [National Science Foundation] is issuing grant money to ‘university and non-profit research teams’ to develop automated speech intervention at scale using AI. The Judiciary Committee believes the move to use automation to censor speech will violate civil liberties in ways previously unseen....
“According to Monday's Judiciary Report, the NSF has embraced the idea of machine-generated censorship. This activity will occur in ways people will never fully comprehend or notice. The process will be both reactive and proactive, curating information at the behest of ‘a small and isolated coterie of partisan social engineers’ programming machines to do it.... According to the report, Marc Andreessen, co-creator of Mosaic, a graphical browser and co-founder of Netscape, ‘warned that the level of censorship pressure that's coming for AI and the resulting backlash will define the next century of civilization.’ …
“We already know about Stanford's Election Integrity Partnership (EIP), which was created at the request of the DHS and CISA. That partnership worked to flag online speech related to the 2020 election. We have already found evidence of the Biden White House 'directly coercing large social media companies, such as Facebook, to censor true information, memes, and satire, eventually leading Facebook to change its content moderation policies,' as reported by the Judiciary. And we now know the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has harassed Elon Musk's Twitter (now X) because of Musk's commitment to free speech, even going so far as to target certain journalists by name,' according to the report. To be honest, the partnerships are too numerous to list.
“However, this Feb. 5, 2024, report focuses on how the NSF has funded ‘AI-powered censorship and propaganda tools’ and attempted to ‘hide its actions to avoid political and media scrutiny.’ NSF has been issuing millions in federal grants to its partners to develop artificial intelligence (AI)-powered censorship and propaganda tools that can be used by governments and Big Tech. The aim is to ‘shape public opinion by restricting certain viewpoints or promoting others,’ according to the Judiciary report. These are taxpayer-funded projects that are allegedly already being weaponized in one way or another to limit our free speech. The partners include the University of Michigan's AI-powered WiseDex tool, Meedan with its Co-Insights tool, The University of Wisconsin's CourseCorrect, and MIT's Search Lit. These censorship tools represent state-of-the-art software that would instantaneously identify the types of speech biased humans program the software to eliminate....”
Full article at Uncover DC. See also our prior postings about “Stanford’s Roles in Censoring the Web” and Stanford Prof. Jay Bhattacharya "The Government Censored Me and Other Scientists; We Fought Back and Won” as well as our proposals for addressing these issues as set forth in Part 4 of “Back to Basics at Stanford."
We're Losing Our Privacy to Surveillance Devices Which Don't Even Protect Us
“Civil libertarians are celebrating the recent announcement by Amazon that law enforcement agencies will no longer be able to obtain Ring doorbell camera videos just by asking. Henceforth, the company will require a subpoena or a search warrant.
“That’s great news. One needn’t be anti-cop (I’m certainly not) to agree that government should jump through a hoop or two before seizing images people reasonably believe to be private. Yet we’re dealing here only with the tip of the proverbial iceberg....
“In the words of criminologist Eric Piza, ‘While lay persons (and even some ‘experts’) may assume conspicuous camera presence alone sufficiently communicates heightened risk, such causal mechanisms can be difficult to generate in practice.’
“According to his data, actively monitored video systems do have a small crime-reducing effect; passively monitored systems have none. But until AI brings Orwell’s ‘telescreens’ to life, no government on earth has the resources to monitor every camera in real time....
“Maybe my attitude about privacy is old-fashioned. We live at a time, after all, when some 3 out of 10 young people support the installation of surveillance cameras in private homes. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the publication of the novel ‘1984’ and maybe those always-on telescreens are a lot closer than we think.
“So by all means let’s celebrate Amazon’s decision to make it a little bit harder for government to get its hands on doorbell videos. But with respect to the rest of the banality of security, let’s bear in mind that we’re giving up an awful lot of privacy for a questionable improvement in safety.”
Full op-ed by Stanford alum and Yale Law School Prof. Stephen Carter at Bloomberg and other sources. See also Stanford Review “Stanford’s Security Regime Takes Root” and Stanford Daily article from a year ago about Stanford installing 250 cameras a year for the next four years.
See also Stanford student Theo Baker, "Inside Stanford’s War on Fun."
From The Atlantic: The Rise of Techno-Authoritarianism from Silicon Valley
Excerpts (links in the original):
“To worship at the altar of mega-scale and to convince yourself that you should be the one making world-historic decisions on behalf of a global citizenry that did not elect you and may not share your values or lack thereof, you have to dispense with numerous inconveniences -- humility and nuance among them. Many titans of Silicon Valley have made these trade-offs repeatedly. YouTube (owned by Google), Instagram (owned by Meta), and Twitter (which Elon Musk insists on calling X) have been as damaging to individual rights, civil society, and global democracy as Facebook was and is. Considering the way that generative AI is now being developed throughout Silicon Valley, we should brace for that damage to be multiplied many times over in the years ahead.
“The behavior of these companies and the people who run them is often hypocritical, greedy, and status-obsessed. But underlying these venalities is something more dangerous, a clear and coherent ideology that is seldom called out for what it is: authoritarian technocracy. As the most powerful companies in Silicon Valley have matured, this ideology has only grown stronger, more self-righteous, more delusional, and -- in the face of rising criticism -- more aggrieved....
“In October, the venture capitalist and technocrat Marc Andreessen published on his firm’s website a stream-of-consciousness document he called ‘The Techno-Optimist Manifesto.’ …
“‘Our enemy,’ Andreessen writes, is ‘the know-it-all credentialed expert worldview, indulging in abstract theories, luxury beliefs, social engineering, disconnected from the real world, delusional, unelected, and unaccountable -- playing God with everyone else’s lives, with total insulation from the consequences.’ …
“We do not have to live in the world the new technocrats are designing for us. We do not have to acquiesce to their growing project of dehumanization and data mining. Each of us has agency.
“No more ‘build it because we can.’ No more algorithmic feedbags. No more infrastructure designed to make the people less powerful and the powerful more controlling. Every day we vote with our attention; it is precious, and desperately wanted by those who will use it against us for their own profit and political goals. Don’t let them.”
See also “Government Funds AI Tools for Whole-of-Internet Surveillance and Censorship” at Brownstone, “How AI Has Begun Changing University Roles and Responsibilities” at Inside Higher Ed and “How Will AI Disrupt Higher Education in 2024?” also at Inside Higher Ed.
Higher Education Reform, Civic Thought and Liberal Education
“For decades, American colleges and universities have desperately needed reform. The urgency of the moment may create openings to mitigate the damage and restore the basic elements of liberal education.
“Over the last few months, turmoil on campus has provoked outrage among wealthy donors, members of Congress, parents of college and college-bound students, and no small number of ordinary citizens. The sympathy exhibited by students and faculty for Hamas’ barbaric Oct. 7 attacks on Israelis, mostly civilians, along with the vacillating and mealy-mouthed response of many elite university administrators to students’ championing jihadist genocide threw into sharp relief how badly higher education has lost its way....
“Our colleges and universities have been policing speech. They have been curtailing due process, particularly concerning allegations of sexual misconduct. They have been relaxing to the point of eliminating core curriculum requirements. And they have been packing course offerings, particularly in the humanities....
“The extent of the disrepair of U.S. colleges and universities and the urgency of the moment necessitate the recovery of the traditional principles of liberal education to guide the long, arduous work of higher education reform.”
On the Positive Side -- Samples of Current Activities at Stanford
Click on each article for direct access; selections are from Stanford Report and other Stanford websites.
Other Articles of Interest
University Budget Cuts Were Overdue
Harvard Is Accused of Obstructing House Antisemitism Inquiry
Northwestern Launches Center for Enlightened Disagreement
Full article at Diverse Issues in Higher Education
Only 16% of Faculty Members Are Ready for GenAI in Higher Education
Full article at Diverse Issues in Higher Education
Why Give Money to a College That Only Wants to Mock Your Values?
Full op-ed at Giving Review
Almost Half of Stopped-Out Community College Students Cite Work as Major Reason for Leaving
Full article at Higher Ed Dive
University Rankings Are Unscientific and Bad for Education
Full op-ed at The Conservation
“Impediments to free speech are impediments to free thought and can only interfere with that search. That’s why academic freedom is so precious.” -- Stanford alum and Yale Law School Prof. Stephen Carter
Comments and Questions from Our Readers
See more reader comments on our Reader Comments webpage.
Need Dialog, Not Prohibitions
I suggest the university produce forums in which ultimate concerns about war and peace presently unfolding be formally debated, subject to the rules of decorum. This is what the university is for, not prohibitions on argument or advocacy. Silence renders learning impossible.
Hoping for Balanced Speech at Stanford
I am so in support of the opinions expressed here and hope Stanford will adopt a more balanced approach to free speech. I can only hope.
Teaching Young People and Others How to Disagree Civilly
While I believe that supporting free speech is very important in and of itself, I also believe that there is a related component that is often ignored. That component is teaching people, especially young people, how to disagree civilly/how to constructively respond to free speech they might not agree with.
Stanford Internet Observatory
If your leadership team has not looked into the Stanford Internet Observatory, and its link to the Election Integrity Partnership, funded through the Obama/Biden Department of Homeland Security, please take a look. This is a powerful online censorship weapon. The university has no business participating in the policing of election related free speech in our country.
Question About Ties to the Alumni Association
Q. I notice that the SAA website contains no links to the Stanford Alumni for Free Speech and Critical Thinking website. Why is that?
A. Our website is not linked at the SAA website since we intentionally did not seek to become an affiliate of SAA. Among other things, we wanted to maintain independence, including since SAA became a subsidiary of
the university in the mid-1990’s. That said, there are a number of current and former Stanford administrators and trustees who receive our Newsletters and read the materials that are posted at the website.
Member, Alumni Free Speech Alliance
Stanford Alumni for Free Speech and Critical Thinking is an independent, diverse, and nonpartisan group of Stanford alumni committed to promoting and safeguarding freedom of thought and expression, intellectual diversity and inclusion, and academic freedom at Stanford.
We believe innovation and positive change for the common good is achieved through free and active discourse from varying viewpoints, the freedom to question both popular and unpopular opinions, and the freedom to seek truth without fear of reprisal from those who disagree, within the confines of humanity and mutual respect.
Our goal is to support students, faculty, administrators, and staff in efforts that assure the Stanford community is truly inclusive as to what can be said in and outside the classroom, the kinds of speakers that can be invited, and what should always be the core principles of a great university like Stanford. We also advocate that Stanford incorporates the Chicago Trifecta, the gold standard for freedom of speech and expression at college and university campuses, and that Stanford abides by these principles in both its policies and its actions.