On a Friday evening in late July, I attended a Pride service at the Marienkirche, just off Alexanderplatz in central Berlin. The programme included blessings and hymns from Christian, Muslim and Jewish traditions, and as we filed in we were given white wristbands stamped with ‘Liebe tut der Seele gut’ (‘love is good for the soul’) in gold letters. I sat on a pew at the side with three Berliners: a Black American and two white Germans. They told me they weren’t believers but were there because it was the last service of the church superintendent Bertold Höcker, who had done a lot for the queer community, and they wanted to show their gratitude before he retired.
In the early 1990s I worked at Physicians for Human Rights – Israel. Not long after the Oslo Accords were signed we moved from offices on Gordon Street in Tel Aviv to larger premises on Allenby Street, not far from the Great Synagogue. Walking home from work one day, I noticed a small plaque near the synagogue’s entrance. Written in Hebrew and English, it says: ‘The Lehi used the basement and attic of this synagogue as a secret arms cache. It was discovered by the British during the “great curfew” imposed in July 1946, and the weapons were confiscated.’
‘Thanks to the internet,’ the Bluesky user Bobby Bungus (formerly Twitter’s @internethippo) wrote last month, ‘I don’t need to wait for the evening news to learn about recent events. I can read 2000 posts from the most deranged people on earth and make up my own mind.’ In the year since Elon Musk bought Twitter and renamed it X – at, well, deranged cost to himself, financial and reputational – it has largely dispersed as a useable medium and as a quasi-community.
In the summer of 2019, I took part in an investigation by the Syrian Archive into attacks on medical facilities in Syria, described by the Lancet in 2017 as ‘the most dangerous place on earth for healthcare providers’. The Syrian Archive verified 410 incidents of hospital bombings, and identified with confidence the perpetrators of 252 attacks. Ninety per cent of those were acts of aerial bombardment by Assad’s forces and their allies, in particular the Russian air force. Systematically targeting hospitals was one of their most ruthless tactics, a means to depopulate opposition areas.
Old Man Texas was a character invented by the Dallas Morning News cartoonist John Knott in 1906. He looked like a cowboy, a figure out of the Old West. He wore a ten-gallon hat over thick, flowing hair. He had a windswept moustache and wore leather boots. Knott was an Austrian who had arrived in Dallas via Sioux City.
Since AI programs, however intelligent they may be, are still only programs, we ought to be able to rely on them to do as they are told. The difficulty is being sure that we have in fact told them to do what we want them to do – otherwise known as the alignment problem.