What to know about the 2023 Aspen Ideas Festival
- The Aspen Ideas Festival is hosted by the Aspen Institute, a nonprofit founded in 1949 that is dedicated to “change through dialogue, leadership, and action to help solve the most important challenges facing the United States and the world.”
- Tuesday's biggest speakers included former Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, journalist Katie Couric and actor Brian Cox.
- NBCUniversal News Group is the media partner of the Aspen Ideas Festival.
That's a wrap on Day 4 of the Aspen Ideas Festival
And that’s it from the opera house. For the media, plenty to worry about with AI, but also some reasons for optimism.
We’ll be back tomorrow morning with coverage of the Aspen Ideas Festival, which will include panels on guns in America, the economy and how to build for a green future.
Governments could soon regulate AI
On government regulation, Stern puts it plainly: “Well, we have to do something.” She said that the optimistic view is that politicians and experts in the U.S. are already talking seriously about AI.
She said there’s a lot of progress in terms of the questions getting asked.
Berend noted that Europe is out front on AI regulation and could put in place the first major AI regulations. He said he thinks Europe could inform how the U.S. pursues AI regulation.
News organizations will have to emphasize what sets human journalists apart from AI
White asks about how the media can help the public understand these challenges, Berend said that it’s important to emphasize the people behind journalism.
He added that he thinks we could see the proliferation of “junk” on the internet, and that NBC News needs to cut through that.
“It’s all the little messaging that we can do to reinforce the fact that we are a trusted place,” Berend said.
Stern said that AI is already generating content that can roughly replicate her work, which is pushing her to think about what humans are good at. She points to reporting and voice, the latter being how people tell stories.
Standards needed around synthetic media, Berend says
Berend said there is a need for generally accepted standards around synthetic media.
“It’s going to be probably determined by some mix of regulation and computing power,” Berend said.
Stern said the ability of AI to detect AI-created media is far behind the creation itself, especially around audio.
Can professionals avoid AI?
Can professionals avoid AI? Berend says no, and that journalists will need to adapt.
“We have to retool,” he said. “And there’s a lot of software and technologies that we have to invest in.”
Berend compared using AI to using Google, which any journalist can tell you is an essential part of their job.
In response to White asking about how to prepare for AI in newsrooms, Stern said The Wall Street Journal is already having conversations about how to use new tools for investigative journalism.
“We have to figure out the bounds around that, the ethical bounds around that,” Stern said.
But Berend added a warning: AI can also be a shortcut, and AI can also contain biases. He stressed it's important to vet AI to make sure it's not introducing those issues into newsrooms.
News organizations tackling AI challenges
Talking on AI, Berend notes the rapid pace of the development of technologies like OpenAI’s chatbot, ChatGPT.
Stern points to just how accessible they are. People can login, maybe pay a few bucks, and create all sorts of media, including copies of people’s voices — complete with a fake video of Stern talking about how she loves sitting in the middle seat at the back of an airplane (she, of course, does not).
Such technology, known broadly as generative AI, has exploded in popularity and availability this year.
Berend said news organizations are investing in verification teams, but that newsrooms will need their own AI to be able to detect AI-generated media.
Berend added that this is not just a challenge for newsrooms. Every job in the knowledge economy will need to confront AI challenges, he said.
Stern and Berend both noted, however, that AI could help reporters. Stern said she sees AI helping free people from repetitive tasks.
No, Hillary Clinton didn't endorse DeSantis
The panel kicks off with a half-decent deepfake of Hillary Clinton endorsing Ron DeSantis for president. She, of course, did not do this.
But Berend notes that people often consume this kind of content in places where it can be easy to react without having a deep look at the media.
That video, he added, is still up on Twitter.
In a subtler example, Stern shows how Samsung’s smartphones got caught filling in details on photos of the moon. Berend noted this is still a very new problem.
A light evening discussion: Deepfakes and popes in puffer jackets
We're at the Wheeler Opera House for an after-hours discussion on deepfakes and the media's role in policing AI.
The discussion will feature Chris Berend, executive vice president of digital for NBCUniversal News Group and Wall Street Journal technology columnist Joanna Stern. Jenn White, host of NPR's 1A, will moderate.
"Deepfake" is a general term for synthetic media created by AI that can often look extremely realistic. A recent photo of Pope Francis in a fashionable puffer jacket went viral, only for it to be found to be fake.
That's a wrap on the afternoon lineup
Thanks for joining us. We'll have more coverage tonight.
Cox says acting was an escape from impoverished childhood
Couric asked Cox to describe his humble upbringing in Dundee, Scotland. Cox replied that the poverty in which he was raised was like a "Damocles' sword" that has loomed over his life.
But he found a refuge in movie theaters several times a week and particularly admired the legendary Hollywood star Spencer Tracy. He joined the staff of a local theater repertory company when he was just a teen.
"I felt at home," he said. "The theater has really sustained me, and I'm so grateful to it."
Cox on the mystery of Logan Roy
Cox said the "bitter thing" at the heart of Logan Roy is the death of the character's little sister from polio. "He blames himself," the actor said.
"I just felt Logan was constantly misunderstood," Cox added. But "all he wants to do is find a successor from his own children."
Unfortunately, he added, the Roy children "vacillate so much" and demonstrate that they are, in his character's words, "not serious people."
Cox praises 'Succession' actors who played his children
Cox hailed the acting skills of his "Succession" co-star Sarah Snook, describing her as a "formidable" talent who had already proven herself as a force in the theater before she started playing the role of Shiv Roy.
"But the real hero" was Kieran Culkin, who played Roman Roy. "To see his growth over the six years we've been working was phenomenal," he said.
Cox: 'I knew straight away' that 'Succession' would be successful
Cox told Couric that he knew "straight away" that "Succession" would be successful, in part because it was in the mold of addictive prime-time soap operas like "Dallas" and "Dynasty."
He pointed to another reason why the show resonated: "I think we live in this age of the ultra-rich," Cox said, mentioning the tech moguls Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos.
Brian Cox takes the stage with a bagpiper
The star of "Succession" (who was born in Scotland) just appeared on stage alongside a bagpiper in full regalia. The bagpiper played a short tune.
"Bravo," Cox said.
Next up: 'Succession' star Brian Cox
Brian Cox, who starred on the HBO drama "Succession" as the tyrannical media mogul Logan Roy, is set to take the stage in a few moments. He'll be in conversation with Katie Couric.
Couric points to report about record detainments of journalists
Couric notes that the Committee to Protect Journalists found that 2022 was a record high for the number of journalists detained by governments.
"The Committee to Protect Journalists’ annual prison census has found that 363 reporters were deprived of their freedom as of December 1, 2022 — a new global high that overtakes last year’s record by 20% and marks another grim milestone in a deteriorating media landscape," the group said in a report.
Latour: 'All options are being explored' in effort to free Gershkovich
Latour declined to go into specifics when asked to described the effort to free Gershkovich, but he said that "all options are being explored."
He thanked the audience for expressing support for the reporter in person and via social media posts.
Latour says that prison holding Gershkovich is an 'evil place'
Latour, lamenting the "long and sad history of political prisoners" in Russia, said the facility where Gershkovich is detained was "effectively designed to make you feel lonely and hopeless."
"It's not a pleasant place," he said. "It's an evil place where an innocent American is being held for doing his job."
WSJ publisher praises detained reporter
Latour said The Wall Street Journal is still leaning heavily on Gershkovich's journalism every day even while he is detained in Russia.
The publisher told Couric that the newspaper used material he had written about the tension between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Yevgeny Prigozhin during the Wagner Group chief's short-lived rebellion against the Kremlin over the weekend.
Latour also praised the reporter's parents, Ella and Mikhail, for their resilience.
Soon: WSJ publisher discusses the fight to free U.S. journalist detained in Russia
The third event on the afternoon lineup: Almar Latour, the publisher of The Wall Street Journal, in conversation with the veteran news anchor (and former "TODAY" show co-host) Katie Couric.
Latour will discuss the fight to free Evan Gershkovich, the 31-year-old Journal reporter and U.S. citizen who has been detained in Russia since March on espionage charges. Gershkovich, his employers at the Journal and the U.S. government have forcefully denied the charges.
Gershkovich's arrest has put a global spotlight on press freedom.
Happening now: Lyle Lovett, Walter Isaacson, Jon Meacham
The singer-songwriter Lyle Lovett is on stage with author Walter Isaacson and historian Jon Meacham. The subject is American musical history; Meacham and country star Tim McGraw co-wrote the book "Songs of America: Patriotism, Protest, and the Music That Made a Nation."
Cheney receives standing ovation
The panel concluded with a standing ovation from the crowd, which continues to buzz after Cheney and Holt leave the stage.
For an interlude, a drummer and three flautists played "Yankee Doodle Dandy."
A second Trump presidency would focus on 'retribution,' Cheney says
The crowd groaned when Holt asked Cheney what a second Trump administration would look like, but the question elicited a stark warning from the former lawmaker.
Cheney said that if Trump were to be re-elected, he would be focused on "retribution" -- and be staffed by people she called bad actors, like Trump's former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Trump would "not have responsible people at the Justice Department" or throughout the government, Cheney warned, adding he's determined to strike back at his perceived enemies.
"Nobody should have any question or doubt he'll do whatever he has to do to get in the Oval Office again," she said.
Cheney laments divisiveness of modern politics
Cheney said she regrets that American politics has become so bitter in recent years, adding: "I have tweeted partisan tweets that I wish I could take back."
Cheney encourages people to run for office: 'Institutions aren’t going to defend themselves'
Cheney, talking about how to improve U.S. politics, encouraged people to get involved and run for local office.
"The institutions aren’t going to defend themselves,” Cheney told Holt.
Cheney on Monday admonished the electorate for “electing idiots.”
Cheney: I'm conservative, but most Republicans today aren't
Asked if she still considered herself a conservative, Cheney said yes, while adding that most in the modern Republican Party are not.
The "party has abandoned conservatism," she said.
Cheney asked about her 2024 plans
Lester Holt asked Cheney whether she plans to run for president in 2024. She replied that she didn't have anything to announce today, adding that she was more focused on "stopping Donald Trump, whatever that takes" and "helping to elect other good candidates down ballot."
Then, asked whether she would consider running as a Republican or a third-party candidate, Cheney replied that she would not do “anything that would help Donald Trump.”
Cheney gets laughs from audience for joke about new 'Democratic friends'
The crowd gathered for this afternoon's conversation laughed after Cheney quipped that she has "more Democratic friends" than she used to — a nod to her support among liberals after emerging as one of Trump's most vocal critics.
Crowd supports Cheney's message that Trump shouldn't be let near Oval Office again
The opening has been all about Trump, and the biggest audience response came from a line in which Cheney made clear that she thinks he should never be president again.
"The single most important issue is that Donald Trump never be anywhere near the Oval Office," she said to applause.
Cheney: Indictment shows Trump 'unfit' to be president
"Nightly News" anchor Lester Holt kicked off his conversation with former Rep. Liz Cheney this afternoon by asking the Wyoming Republican her thoughts on the federal indictment against former President Donald Trump.
"There’s simply no question he’s unfit to be president of the United States," Cheney said, adding that there needs to be "accountability."
NBCUniversal News Group chairman kicks off afternoon's conversations
Cesar Conde, the chairman of the NBCUniversal News Group, introduced "NBC Nightly News" anchor Lester Holt's conversation with former Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming.
"We hope you will agree this will be an incredible discussion to kick off the afternoon," he said.
Conde oversees NBC News, MSNBC and CNBC.
The crowd is streaming in for the afternoon's conversations
People are filing into the Benedict Music Tent ahead of the afternoon's main event: a series of conversations with marquee names.
We'll have coverage of some of the key conversations, featuring former Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo.; The Wall Street journal publisher Almar Latour; and "Succession" star Brian Cox.
Next up: Afternoon of Conversation
The next panel, “Afternoon of Conversation,” will feature global leaders, journalists, politicians and more.
The session, which will include former Rep. Liz Cheney, is scheduled to begin at 2:45 p.m. MT/4:45 p.m. ET.
Williams slams financial literacy programs as ‘useless’
Asked about financial literacy initiatives developed by major banks — frequently as an employee benefit offered by major companies — Williams said, “Throw away all the books, it’s useless.”
His remark drew a “there you go, thank you” from Bell.
“There’s two people: people with money and people without money. The only way you know how to handle money is to have money,” Williams continued. “It’s that simple. You have to give people money, and you have to give them rules to learn. That’s it.”
Williams criticizes subprime lending industry
Williams took aim at the subprime lending industry, saying it’s “crowded, but it’s crowded with subprime credit cards” whose policies tend to squeeze consumers with historically limited access to financial services.
The sector is “a $190 billion market that’s the fastest-growing consumer finance market,” he said, but “there’s a vested interest to protect the credit industry that operates in subprime lending.”
For example, Williams said, many common types of fees are excluded from credit cards’ APR, such as annual fees, subscription fees and late fees. Taken together, he said, the industry is “kind of designed to take advantage of a group that has not had the innovation, and more importantly, hasn’t had a founder who has experienced it that can point it out and say, ‘Well, we don’t want to do that anymore.’”
Dredge explains how he protects his social healthcare startup against Big Pharma
To get off the ground in the highly consolidated drug sector, Dredge said SSM Health “had to enter big, we had to enter long.” So the organization looked at “a critical set of essential drugs that were purchased directly by hospitals,” then pooled together 500 hospitals and signed five-year contracts with them, making a commitment “not to bend” under market pressure.
A common threat for new entrants, he said, is that “the incumbents can come in and just undercut you, and they squeeze you out until you go away.”
Backed by a big infusion of philanthropic dollars, including from a billionaire donor, SSM is set up as a nonprofit that Dredge said helps ensure it won’t be “taken out through acquisition or sale.”
Bell discusses how to design a viable business aimed at closing the racial wealth gap
“Far too many times, people think when you’re trying to help people that look like you, it must be alms, it must be charity. You’re probably not going to make any money, so we’ll send you to our social impact folks,” Bell said, adding, “Black people like making money too.”
His challenge, he said, was to “create a marketplace where everybody can make money. That’s the bottom line. In America that’s the only way.”
Otherwise, he said, “It will only be as popular as the last martyr … whether it was George Floyd or any other ones before him or ones who will come after him, you’ve got about a two-and-a-half-year span where America will care, and then they won’t.”
Entrepreneurs discuss disrupting finance, healthcare and banking industries
Three entrepreneurs took the stage to discuss businesses they see as disrupting key industries that many Americans rely on but don’t have equal access to.
Rodney Williams, co-founder of the community finance platform SoLo, short for social loans, “has quickly become the largest consumer finance company ever founded by African Americans,” he said. Williams added that the company is “lending or enabling about $20 million of capital to underserved communities every month.”
SSM Health is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit group whose medicines have been used to treat over 55 million people, said Carter Dredge, SVP and lead futurist at the healthcare network, which he described as pioneering a “new business genre.” SSM played “a critical role in reducing the price of insulin for people who need it earlier this spring by over 70%.”
Ashley Bell is the CEO of Ready Life, a fintech company focused on Black homeownership. “We believe that credit scores are just a proxy for race in this country,” Bell said. “We think there’s a better way,” which involves underwriting home loans based on customers’ cash flow, he said.
Next up: Meet the disruptors
The next panel, “Meet the Disruptors: Paving a Path to a New Economy,” is scheduled to begin at 11:50 a.m. MT/1:50 p.m. ET.
It is expected to feature three business leaders who are part of the Aspen Global Leadership Network and use emerging technologies as part of their drug delivery, banking, and community-focused finance businesses.
The panelists will be in conversation with NBC News’ Rebecca Blumenstein.
“What to Take Down, What to Leave Up, and Why” panel has ended
And that’s a wrap on this panel. Nossel covered a lot of ground and did a lot to illuminate the complexities and subtleties of how the Facebook Oversight Board makes decisions.
That said, she painted a picture of a company that is still struggling with enforcing its rules and showing signs of caring less about moderation.
Nossel says it's important to keep pressure on Facebook about moderation
In response to a question from yours truly about whether Facebook’s move to moderation has begun to reverse, Nossel said it is a major concern, noting that the company seems to be under less pressure than in the past and concentrating on other challenges.
“I think this outside pressure, whether it’s from the real board, our board, journalists, researchers, investigators, I think it’s extremely important to keep that focused and potent because they’re a company,” she said. “They’re worried about AI and worried about the metaverse.”
Facebook's safety practices remain a concern, Nossel says
In response to a question about whether Facebook does enough to consider downsides when launching products, Nossel said the company’s safety practices remain a concern and noted that the company has laid off many employees.
Nossel noted a board case in Brazil over a post that clearly violated the company’s policy against calling for attacks against infrastructure.
“How were you not more on top of that? How could you not have experts who would be looking at a post, just like this and recognizing its potential, and yet they didn’t,” she said.
Nossel: AI raises questions about when to slow tech development
Nossel touches on concerns about generative AI and the challenges that technology poses. Tech companies including Facebook have talked for years about developing AI to help with moderation.
But there’s growing concerns that AI will make it easier to flood the internet and social media with fake content.
Nossel said it’s a major question of how and when to slow technology development.
“I don’t know how as a society develop the ability to kind of calibrate this. I think it’s really hard to rein things in once they’re in such wide use,” she said.
Facebook's moderation decisions can be inconsistent, Nossel says
Franks mentions the “Real Oversight Board,” a group entirely separate from Facebook that acts as an external watchdog for Meta and Facebook. She noted a post from that group was recently taken down and later reinstated by the company with no explanation.
Asking about whether the board has brought this up with Facebook, Nossel said the board has discussed and that she did not think there was a good explanation.
Nossel added that the way moderation decisions at Facebook happen tends to be varied and diffuse, coming from offices all over the world.
Nossel also called Facebook’s actions to take down the post an “own goal” that points toward the platform’s inconsistency in making moderation decisions.
Nossel calls Facebook's 'cross check' program 'an absolute double standard'
On a question about Facebook’s willingness to enforce its rules on famous people, Nossel mentions “cross check,” a program that gave certain high-profile accounts special treatment around moderation questions.
Nossel said the program has some business merits but was also “an absolute double standard.”
Nossel said the board raised concerns about the program and that Facebook did not let them see the list of people on the “cross check” list.
Nossel addresses criticism of the Oversight Board
Franks notes some of the criticisms of Facebook and its board, most notably that it makes the company into something akin to a quasi-governmental entity.
Nossel called that question a “genuine dilemma,” adding that the board is a legitimizing body for the company. She said that the company has such a major presence in modern discourse in the U.S. but also in places such as Myanmar, where the platform places an even more outsized role in the flow of information and has also been the scene of violence connected to Facebook.
“In some ways, their level of societal influence and control has already gotten out of hand. And so, I think the other way to look at it is you’re trying to rein that in,” Nossel said.
Can the Facebook Oversight Board be truly independent?
Frank is asking about the independence of the board, Nossel said that the board is dependent on Facebook to provide data and answer questions.
She said the company sometimes does respond, but other times will decline to respond.
“I think that the credibility of the platform hinges significantly on Facebook’s willingness to play ball,” Nossel said.
She said she feels some within Facebook are still resistant to the board, but others have warmed up to it.
“There is are still even within the company, I think mixed feelings about the board,” Nossel said. “I think some are fully on board and supportive and believe this is part of the future of the company. And there are others who think this is a thorn in their side.”
Oversight board members had 'real debate' over Facebook's nudity policies
Nossel spoke to one of the the more challenging cases she considered while on Facebook’s board.
The case focused on threatening posts in Ethiopia and whether they were legitimate expression or incitements of violence.
Nossel noted the posts would not have violated U.S. law in terms of incitement of immediate violence, but recognized that in the context it could be dangerous speech.
She also noted a different case that dealt with nudity and a person transitioning gender. She said that the case posed questions about trans expression and the company’s nudity policies.
“We had a real debate over this question and obviously it implicated the political and ideological leanings of members of the board their sensibilities,” she said.
The origin of the Facebook Oversight Board
Nossel starts out setting the stage for the start of Facebook’s Oversight Board, noting the social media platform’s early embrace of free speech and eventual turn to more moderation.
She said she’s been on the board for about two years and said that she had some initial concern about joining it — but that the idea of an independent board was worth trying and could be better than relying on governments.
“I sort of thought by process of elimination, that this international body of experts was something worth trying and that it was better to be part of the experiment and try to shape it,” Nossel said.
The challenges of tech moderation
Our first panel of the day is: "What to Take Down, What to Leave Up, and Why," featuring Suzanne Nossel, CEO of PEN America, a human rights and free expression organization. Mary Anne Franks, a law professor at George Washington Law School, is hosting the panel.
Nossel is a member of the Facebook Oversight Board, which was founded to help the company engage outside experts around questions of how to moderate its platform.
Tech moderation remains a technically challenging and politically fraught topic. Many major tech companies made major changes to their policies and hired specialized teams to more aggressively and thoroughly moderate their platforms, but layoffs combined with growing political pushback from Republicans has reined in some moderation efforts.
Good morning from Aspen
It's a bright and windy morning here in Aspen, where we're getting ready for a big day of discussion.
Breakfast is served.
What's up first on Tuesday's agenda?
Our live blog coverage will begin with a session titled "What to Take Down, What to Leave Up, and Why." The discussion between John McWhorter and Suzanne Nossel will be about the legal and ethical implications of content moderation online.
Nossel sits on the Facebook Oversight Board and is the CEO of PEN America, a human rights and free-expression organization. McWhorter is a professor at Columbia University, where he teaches linguistics, American studies, and music history.
Here’s what you missed Monday
Among Monday's speakers were the heads of Chevron and GM.
Asked how he felt about the attacks on diversity, equity and inclusion programs, Chevron CEO Mike Wirth said such programs were critical to Chevron’s strategy.
“I think the business case for DE&I is overwhelmingly evident,” he said.
Wirth said Chevron needs the skills and talents of people from all different backgrounds, to source people from every country, every culture, every ethnic and racial background.
“And then we need them to be their best selves. ... If we can’t have that, we won’t have the talent to deal with these big challenges,” he said. “We are not turning away because it’s part and parcel of our business strategy and our success depends on it.”
GM CEO Mary Barra offered three tips to young professionals for success in the auto industry. She told them to find their passion, work hard and do every job as though it's the job they'll do for the rest of their lives.
“Don’t rent a job; do it like you’re going to own it,” Barra said.