George Boardman: Now here’s a real shocker: The Bridgeport price tag is going up again | TheUnion.com

George Boardman: Now here’s a real shocker: The Bridgeport price tag is going up again

George Boardman
Columnist

When last we visited the effort to restore the Bridgeport Covered Bridge, the price tag to resuscitate this iconic local landmark had tripled to $3.9 million. It takes money to build a Disneyland-like replica of a 155-year-old structure.

But, it turns out, that's not enough money to get the job done. After a closer look, the experts decided they need an additional $2.8 million to perform the work without further delay — that is, just 7.5 years after the bridge was closed to the public because it was structurally unsound.

That prompted the county Board of Supervisors, never reluctant to spend the state's money, to team up with the Save Our Bridge Campaign Committee and other community advocates to plead with the state Legislature for the additional funding. That request was approved and now, a county press release states, "the California Department of Parks and Recreation will be able to continue to select a bid with construction starting as early as August."

(Among those backing the effort from the start has been Assemblyman Brian Dahle, head of the Assembly Republican Caucus, who has never wavered as the price tag has gone up. Keep that in mind the next time Assembly Republicans complain about the spend-thrift Democrats.)

As it is, we'll be getting a replica of the original bridge. The bridge will be raised 18 inches and its foundation will essentially be replaced. The work also involves replacement of some of the existing support structures, roof, wall and "other failing structural elements." In other words, this beloved local structure was ignored for so long, it essentially has to be replaced.

We were promised back in January construction work would start in August — now it's "as early as August." I suppose you have to take what you can get to resurrect a local landmark that nobody did anything about for at least a year after it was closed.

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Selective Outrage

Those very bright computer engineers who have done such a marvelous job invading practically every aspect of our lives apparently draw the line when it comes to sharing that expertise with the government agencies charged with protecting us from the evils of the world.

Shareholders and employees at Amazon, Google and Microsoft are upset to varying degrees with the companies' involvement in projects that will utilize Artificial Intelligence and other high tech advances to strengthen our defenses against the threats in our dangerous world.

Thousands of Google employees recently protested the company's involvement in a Pentagon program that uses AI to interpret video imagery and could be used to improve the targeting of drones.

"We believe Google should not be in the business of war," the employees wrote in a letter to CEO Sundar Pichai, urging him to pull the company out of Project Maven and announce a policy that Google will not "ever build warfare technology."

Maven is a pilot program to find ways to speed up the military application of the latest AI technology. Video analysis is routinely used in counter insurgency and counter terrorism operations, the kind of technology that keeps American military personnel safe in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. After the protests, Google said it wouldn't renew the contract.

Farther up the coast, some employees of Microsoft are uneasy with a cloud computing contract the company recently signed with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the government agency everybody seems to hate these days. The company posted a press release before the family separation controversy erupted, saying it is "proud to support" ICE's mission. The press release was taken off the company's website after a nasty social media backlash ensued.

Microsoft won't say if its Azure government cloud-computing arm is supplying ICE with Face API, a facial recognition software, or other AI capabilities, but some employees are clearly upset with the deal.

"This is the sort of thing that would make me question staying," said one employee. "I'll seriously consider leaving if I'm not happy with how they're handling this."

Finally, some shareholders at Amazon — people who got rich from the company's ability to snoop into every aspect of its customers' lives and then use the information to sell them more stuff — are upset because the company is marketing its facial recognition tool to law enforcement agencies.

The small group of shareholders told Chairman Jeff Bezos its Rekognition technology could be used to automate the widespread identification and tracking of anyone, and could be deployed to "unfairly and disproportionately target and surveil people of color, immigrants, and civil society organizations."

There's a strong whiff of hypocrisy involved in all of these protests. Google and Amazon has become rich by gathering our personal information, then packaging and deploying it in ways that compromise our privacy on a daily basis. Microsoft's greatest current growth opportunities are in related areas.

China and Russia are developing similar technologies and deploying them in a way that is not favorable to us. Judging from the effort China and Russia make to steal our technology, the U.S. still has an edge, but it will only work to our benefit if the military can stay one step ahead of the competition.

The Pentagon is getting ready to accept bids for a multi-year, multi-billion dollar contract to provide cloud computing services to the Defense Department — part of Defense Secretary James Mattis' plan to improve the "lethality" of our armed forces.

Google, Amazon and Microsoft are possible contenders for the contract. Amazon already does several billion dollars worth of similar work for the government and is expected to make a bid. Will the employees of Google and Microsoft support or oppose a similar effort? After all, we're just talking about the nation's security.

George Boardman lives at Lake of the Pines. His column is published Mondays by The Union. Write to him at ag101board@aol.com.

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