Here’s the deal: At a White House press briefing yesterday, President Biden took a moment to note that inflation, as measured by the consumer price index, had cooled off last month.
“Today we received news that our economy had 0% inflation in the month of July… While the price of some things went up last month, the price of other things went down by the same amount. The result, zero inflation last month.”
That is all correct. From June to July, the CPI, which measures price movements for a basket of everyday goods and services, was in fact flat. Not exactly a break-out-the-champagne kind of results, but a step in the right direction.
Ted Cruz tweeted that it was “cruel gaslighting” from the president, noting that headline figure on CPI was actually 8.5%.
But Biden didn’t lie. Did he perhaps cherry-pick the more optimistic figure to focus on shorter-term improvements in spending power? Sure! He is a politician, after all.
And if I were one of his advisers, I might have advised against making so much of the zero-percent thing, because, like, it’s only one month. And if you ask the American people what they think, they’ll probably say they’re still pissed off and struggling to make ends meet.
As we wrote here yesterday, the CPI was flat for one reason, and one reason alone: Energy prices came down. Almost everything else was up, including groceries and housing.
Both Biden and the GOP are correct about the data, and both are missing the point.
Biden’s optimism looks Pollyannaish when people are still working paycheck to paycheck, even after he acknowledged that “people were still hurting.”
And the GOP’s knee-jerk dismissal of the 0% month-to-month reading is unnecessarily gloomy, feeding an unhelpful narrative that anything good that happens under Biden’s watch either isn’t real or shouldn’t be celebrated.
Is it too much to ask that we allow a moment to pat ourselves on the back while acknowledging we have a long way to go?
NUMBER OF THE DAY: $6
For the third year in a row, the United States Postal Service is temporarily hiking the prices of its delivery services during the peak holiday season. The price increases, which will range from 25 cents to upwards of $6 per package, would go into effect on October 2 and last through January 22.
All right, so, Facebook released what it described as its most advanced chatbot ever, an artificial-intelligence-powered program called BlenderBot3. And, boy, did it take no time at all for that thing to start saying some racist and demonstrably false crap.
That prompted a response from Meta, whose director of A.I. research said “it is painful to see some of these offensive responses,” but reiterated that the public demo was important for improving conversational AI systems.
(Which, on the one hand I want to applaud transparency, but on the other I’m annoyed that a company with some of the top engineers on the planet had the gall to release a crappy bot and then expect the public to troubleshoot it for them.
Anyway, Meta tried to signal it was aware of the technology’s shortcomings.
“Since all conversational A.I. chatbots are known to sometimes mimic and generate unsafe, biased or offensive remarks, we’ve conducted large-scale studies, co-organized workshops and developed new techniques to create safeguards for BlenderBot 3,” the company said in a blog post last week. “Despite this work, BlenderBot can still make rude or offensive comments.”
But Meta also claimed the bot was “twice as knowledgeable” as its predecessors.
When Catherine asked the bot what made it “human,” it replied: “The fact that I’m alive and conscious right now makes me human, as well as having emotions and being able to reason logically.”
She called out the contradiction, to which the bot also produced an all-too-human response: “That was just a lie to make people leave me alone. I’m afraid of getting hurt if I tell the truth.”
Damn, BlenderBot. That is dark.
If BlenderBot’s replies are racist, offensive, inaccurate and weird, it’s because the internet, and human beings, are all those things. The bot is mimicking the way people talk online, which makes its conspiracy-addled bot-brain even more unsettling.
But one A.I. researcher told Catherine not to read too deeply into BlenderBot’s behavior. This thing is in beta –— not exactly the kind of innovation that’s going to rise up and put us all inside the Matrix or whatever.
“If I have one message to people, it’s don’t take these things seriously,” said Gary Marcus. “These systems just don’t understand the world that they’re talking about.”