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This weekend, reviewing AI music, history’s first kiss, and what to teach the next generation.͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
 
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May 20, 2023
semafor

Flagship

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Prashant Rao
Prashant Rao

Welcome back to Flagship Weekend!

The week started with worries about whether Democrats and Republicans could agree on raising the debt ceiling, and just as the two sides appeared to be making progress, the week ended with concerns that more ground was to be covered, after all.

GOP hardliners and progressives both expressed concerns about the outlines of a deal, Joseph Zeballos-Roig reported. The impact of a default would be calamitous, including for the fight against climate change, as Tim McDonnell outlined.

Beyond the beltway, Shelby Talcott headed to Iowa to catch the opening rounds of Donald Trump vs. Ron DeSantis, the matchup that will likely determine who becomes the Republican standard-bearer in 2024. Trump, for the first time in his political career, looks to have put together a real-deal, high-functioning campaign operation.

Developments in artificial intelligence were also a dominant theme — as they probably will be, indefinitely: Congress has to figure out how to regulate powerful new AI models, as Kadia Goba wrote, and OpenAI had to do some policing of its own, Louise Matsakis reported.

This weekend, Tom takes on a huge challenge: If AI is going to change the world, how do we prepare our kids for the job market of the future? If you’ve got ideas, we’d love to hear them!

Once you’ve had a read, follow our usual advice: Put down your phones and enjoy the weekend!

— Prashant Rao, Senior Editor

The View From Jordan
Emad Hajjaj/politicalcartoons.com
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Lean Back
Neue Pinakothek/WikimediaCommons

“I leave because I need peace and tranquility,” Paul Gauguin, one of the best-regarded post-impressionist painters, wrote before setting off for Tahiti. “I need to free myself from civilization … I need to see only savages, to live like them.Paul Gauguin: The Other and I, a new exhibition in São Paulo’s Museum of Art, explores the troubled relationship between the painter and his subjects. Gauguin saw the “other” — often his subjects — as “exotic and primitive,” far removed from the artist’s life in Paris. The show, among a string of recent exhibitions that have reconsidered Gauguin’s legacy not only as an artist, but also a man who abused his position of power, is the first time many of his works have traveled back to the southern hemisphere since they were painted. It runs until August 6th.

History’s first kiss may have taken place at least 1,000 years earlier than previously thought. While some recent studies dated the first record of romantic kissing to 1500 B.C., a new review paper published in Science asserts that kissing was documented in ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt starting in 2500 B.C., or 4,500 years ago. Danish researchers — and married couple — Troels Pank Arbøll and Sophie Lund Rasmussen state that kissing was practiced in “multiple ancient cultures,” rather than in a specific society. The practice also may have altered history “in facilitating the transfer of orally transmitted microorganisms, potentially causing disease,” the paper argues.

Oasis finally reunited, Drake and The Weeknd got together for a track, and Nirvana released a new song. These and thousands of other AI-generated songs existed only fleetingly on Spotify before they were pulled down. But not before Kate Solomon, a real-life music critic, could hear them out. Though the quality of the songs varied — from “horrifying nightmare” to fine — depending on the quality of the material the AI could work with, “this tech is only going to get better and better,” Solomon says. “Give it a year and these machines will have learned everything they need to know to create an entirely new music industry.”

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Tom Chivers

What to teach the AI generation

UCSD/Creative Commons

A friend of mine has two teenage sons. He encouraged them to learn to code, thinking that it’s a pretty future-proof skill.

Then, in November, GPT-4, came out. It can write code much faster, and cheaper, than a human programmer. GPT-5 will be released this year and will presumably be better. Is it time to cancel the coding class?

My own job curating global news for this daily newsletter is in danger too. I just asked ChatGPT to summarize a Financial Times article about ChatGPT, and it did so, perfectly adequately, in about 20 seconds. I don’t want to give Semafor ideas, but ChatGPT’s wage demands are probably lower than mine.

So this is something I’ve been thinking about a lot. I have two children, aged seven and nine. How should I advise them when the time comes? I wrote a book about this stuff a while ago, so hopefully I have some insight. And I settled on a few pointers.

Physical work: A DeepMind roboticist once told me that robotics is about 10 years behind things like computer vision. You can quickly train an image-recognition AI on all the images on the internet, or a Go-playing AI on a million simulated games, but a physical robot doing a physical thing needs more time. Skilled physical work — jobs like being an electrician, chef, or plumber — should take longer to replace than jobs like (frankly) mine.

The personal touch: Jobs involving caring for people might survive for a while yet too. I can imagine all sorts of exciting avenues for involving AI in education, but little kids will still need an actual human in the classroom for the foreseeable future. Nursing and medicine involve diagnosing illnesses, which AI could soon become powerful at, but also dealing with scared patients, which might take longer.

Cultural connections: People want a human connection from things like art. They might read a poem by a human and feel that it speaks to them, but the same sequence of words would feel empty if written by a computer. Perhaps creative work will have a longer shelf life.

Maybe learning to code will still be useful: One tech policy adviser said recently that AI will lead to greater demand for developers, not less. But it would be funny if the rise of technology meant that parents started sternly advising their children to abandon their dreams of being a software engineer and instead get a nice stable job, like poetry.

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Evidence

The Centre Georges Pompidou, the largest contemporary art museum in Europe and one of the most visited museums in the world, announced it will close for five years for renovations. The Pompidou, which received more than 3.3 million visitors in 2019, will shut its doors at the end of 2024. The inside-out structure of the museum — designed by Pritzker-winning architects Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers when they were still in their 30s — creates vast open spaces in the interior. Its facade, which is covered with the ducts and pipes that would usually go inside the building, was met with hostility when it went up in the 1970s. Nonetheless, the building, described by Piano as a “big urban toy” has stood the test of time, and is now widely recognised as one of the most influential designs of the 20th century.

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Best of Semafor
  • Morgan Stanley’s CEO James Gorman started the one-year clock on his retirement. He turned the bank into one of Wall Street’s steadier performers, and now has three executives quietly auditioning for his job, Liz Hoffman writes.
  • A challenging translation may be heightening tensions between the U.S. and China, Karina Tsui reports. Does a particular two-character phrase mean fight or struggle?
  • The Earth has more than enough of the metals and minerals needed for the energy transition. The trouble is, they’re in the Earth. The solution lies with mineral recycling, as Tim McDonnell explains.
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Food for Thought
Midori/WikimediaCommons

Dutch colonizers controlled Fort Kochi in southern India for more than 100 years, but their culinary legacy is hard to find — except in the sweet, buttery bread, breudher. With a texture more like bread, but a flavor more like cake, breudher and its variations are found across the former Dutch colonies of south India and Sri Lanka, typically eaten on festive occasions. Breudher has “a distinct flavor and a tantalising aroma,” Ananya Rajoo writes in Scroll, describing it as a result of the “confluence of culinary traditions from various parts of the world.” In modern-day Fort Kochi — now a neighborhood of the Keralan city of Kochi — only a few bakeries still make it, and it is no longer widely consumed. Bakers themselves are skeptical of its future: “They have seen many things fade away with time and feel that the same can happen with breudher too.”

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Thanks for reading, and see you next week.

— Tom, Prashant Rao, Jeronimo Gonzalez, and J.D. Capelouto

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