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TL(PM) DIGEST: Beijing still refuses to take America's calls
Plus data proves conspiracies and culture wars bad for Twitter's business, Trump beating rivals in their home states, and the rogue AI that never was
1. Beijing spurns U.S. call for dialogue
What happened? In a speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue summit in Singapore, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin called for better communications between the United States and China but said America would not accept Beijing’s “bullying and coercion.” His Chinese counterpart, Li Shangfu, continued to resist U.S. calls for military-to-military talks and effectively demanded a sphere of influence for Beijing in the western Pacific.
Why does it matter? A number of attendees compared Li’s speech to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggressive lecture at the 2007 Munich Security Conference, a tirade that in retrospect signaled the Kremlin belligerent intentions. Beijing clearly sees itself as the rightful hegemon in the Pacific with smaller nations as its vassals—and it clearly sees the United States and its allies as standing in the way of its ambitions.
TLP’s take: No one should say they weren’t warned about Beijing’s foreign policy intentions. While America should always be prepared to take calls from the Chinese government, it’s clear Beijing has no interest in talking with the United States to reduce tensions—and that there are diminishing returns from continuing to insist on dialogue when the other side consistently refuses.
2. Culture wars and conspiracy mongering are bad for business
What happened? The New York Times reports that Twitter’s ad sales have fallen nearly 60 percent since Elon Musk took over the social media company last October.
Why does it matter? Musk’s laissez-faire approach to a host of malicious and conspiratorial content, along with his frequently inept and one-sided interventions in America’s culture wars, haven’t been good for his business.
Twitter’s U.S. advertising revenue for the five weeks from April 1 to the first week of May was $88 million, down 59 percent from a year earlier, according to an internal presentation obtained by The New York Times. The company has regularly fallen short of its U.S. weekly sales projections, sometimes by as much as 30 percent, the document said.
That performance is unlikely to improve anytime soon, according to the documents and seven current and former Twitter employees.
Twitter’s ad sales staff is concerned that advertisers may be spooked by a rise in hate speech and pornography on the social network, as well as more ads featuring online gambling and marijuana products, the people said. The company has forecast that its U.S. ad revenue this month will be down at least 56 percent each week compared with a year ago, according to one internal document.
TLP’s take: Social media has proven to be a scourge on American life in general, bringing out the worst aspects of human nature and amplifying them uncontrollably for profit and political gain. It’s not surprising therefore that normal companies don’t want to do advertising business on an unreliable platform full of lies, conspiracies, and nasty bilge. Good-hearted and decent citizens who want a place for respectful and open dialogue should also look to take their business elsewhere.
3. Trump is beating his rivals in their own states
What happened? Harry Enten reports for CNN that former president Donald Trump is currently leading all of his chief rivals for the presidential nomination—even in their respective home states.
Why does it matter? Primary voting doesn’t start for months, but at this point Trump seems to have locked in a strong bloc of support that transcends GOP voters’ favorability towards successful leaders in their home states. In April polling in South Carolina, Trump leads former governor Nikki Haley and current Sen. Tim Scott with 41 percent support to her 18 percent and his seven percent. In the battle between two Florida favorite sons, Trump leads Gov. Ron DeSantis by a whopping 59 percent to 31 percent margin.
TLP’s take: If you can’t beat Trump at home, how do you plan to beat him in other states? No one seems to have cracked this nut yet by producing a winning argument and policy agenda to take down the GOP frontrunner.
4. That AI-piloted drone turning against its human masters? It never happened.
What happened? Reports that simulated drone piloted by artificial intelligence turned against its human controllers when they attempted to stop the AI from attacking its targets were greatly exaggerated. A U.S. Air Force pilot leading the service’s artificial intelligence research efforts raised a hypothetical scenario that reporters mistakenly took for reality.
Why does it matter? This episode tells us more about the febrile state of our discussions surrounding artificial intelligence than it does the technology itself. Reporting on artificial intelligence tends toward extreme hype and excessive credulity, so it’s not surprising that the hypothetical musings of a U.S. military official involved in AI research were so badly misconstrued—or that this false report spread like wildfire on social media.
TLP’s take: If a story sounds too good—or too apocalyptic—to be true, it probably is. When it comes to our debates over artificial intelligence, we need less hype and more realism.
Just one more thing…
Inside the endless battle between an eccentric Georgetown University professor who put up two ten-foot-tall metal Transformers statues worth $25,000 each outside his Georgetown home and the neighbors who want to remove them as eyesores. But tourists and students love the statues, claiming they’re the “best part of visiting Georgetown.”