Malek's Moorish Tales

Meanderings about life and technology

Is the quest for Artificial Intelligence a Risk for Humanity ?

   During the last couple of years, I started to hear in some podcasts and read in some literature a renewed fea   r of Artificial Intelligence. For sure, this fear has been part of Sci-Fi for some time. But lately, there seem to be many thinkers looking at it as imminent.

   I understand that the general public, with all the late talk about Artificial Intelligence being achieved (as in the algorithms used by social media, predictive algorithms in many business software, or the various assistant software like Siri or Alexa), might think the term intelligence is used in the sense we commonly use it. That is, an agent capable of addressing various situations through learning from others and from past mistakes, to successfully achieve her aims, which in term are evolving according to her understanding for its interests. In short, the public might think what we call "General Intelligence" is achived or imminent.

  Nothing can be farther from the state of the field. The general idea of "Specialized Intelligence" is an algorithm with no control over its objectives, and with no subjective interests. The idea is a software that is given a mesurable objective, and a starting point where it can do something, with some variables it can modify, then it goes on applying the starting execution, measuring the result and how they mesure compared to the given objective, and then iterates through modifying the variables, measuring whether it gets closer or farther from the objective, and adjusting how it modifies the variables depending on the result. Basically, it tries to solve an optimisation problem, getting continously better at it.

  There is today no clear path from where we are to General Intelligence, nor necessarily any serious endeavor to go there. The fact that some software today (especially the assistants and the robots like Sofia or Robot Einstein) might mislead the audience into thinking that it is a General Intelligence just because it can mimic natural language changes nothing. They are using the same Specialized Intelligence approach to natural language, then using predefined routines to respond to our questions or conversations.

  The object of the fear of Artificial Intelligence focuses on the risk that some autonomous intelligent machines might have objectives that do not align with human interests, and that they might find in their interest to take power over the world and ignore us or even destroy the human species. That assumes that General Intelligence is achievable. I don't know if it is achievable or not. What seems clear to me though is that it is not imminent, and that we are not on a path leading there, which makes me convinced that if it is achievable, it probably won't be in the lifetime of my generation (and probably not in that of children). Also, to have any efficiency in addressing a risk, one has to understand the risk in term of vulnerabilities and how they can be exploited. We are far from understanding what General Intelligence might look like, whether it might be a risk or not, and even less how it might operate to be able to come up with any resolution or mitigation to the risks.

   I have to conclude that the fear of Robots taking over the world and annihilating the human race is still as much fantasy and fiction today as it did few decades ago.


   However, Specialized Intelligence presents serious challenges to human affairs as they stand today. It is not a disruption as much as an acceleration to the automation process well underway.

   Over time, companies have been employing less people to achieve the same production, do to the tasks that have been delegated to machinery and then to hardware and software. More than just the numbers of employees, whole categories of jobs have been obsoleted. A hundred years ago, a large company would have employed dozens of "computers", not the electronic devices that go by that name today, but people performing the calculations necessary for book keeping and accounting. In the same way, thirty or forty years ago, a Car assembly line would have employed a large number of employees performing tasks that are tosay performed by robotics and automates.  

  In the same way, a large portion of human work is dedicated to perform basic routine procedures, assist in repetitive tasks, gather information, or make decisions based on well defined criteria. Most if not all of those tasks can be performed by Specialized Intelligence, and they will continue to be perfected until the point where it would be simply unthinkable to keep having humans do them. That transformation is likely to go very quickly, causing a huge human impact. Humans would have to move to more creative tasks, yet we are not seeing the transformation of education and training to prepare the next generations for that inevitable future. That, in my mind, is the imminent and prominent threat to human societies we should be spending our thoughts and energy on.


The US administration confusing interoperability with cloning

   I have been reading in the news some assessments of Jared Kushner's jobs in the Trump Administration, and among the failures that are commonly cited is the failure to get the Veterans affairs modernization off the ground.

   The Obama administration started a program to modernize the Veterans affairs by digitizing the health records. The idea itself is not only right, it is a clear necessity, as it makes no sense that in the 21st century people still rely on paper documents to transfer health information from a doctor to another. Especially in the US that leads the worlds computer and software industries, and particularly for health information that can have an urgent nature in many situations.

   The problem lies with the approach taken (and that is not solely Kushner's error, as the approach started with the Obama administration).

   As any decent solutions architect would see as obvious, to ensure a flow of information between distributed systems, one must ensure interoperability, not the untenable ideal of homogeneity, which is both difficult to achieve, and bound to break in the long run ... Aiming to force all involved entities to use the same software may look as the easy way to people with little IT experience, but is actually a nightmare whenever the system is not centralized. It violates many clear principles of software solution architecture, and results in an impossible commitment.

   The problem that needs solving

   The digitization of records in général, and health records are no exception, requires that the systems using the records can exchange information and have common interpretation of its content. This requires technical and semantic interoperability. The software industry has been working on these issues for decades, and has achieved standards that ensure technical interoperability for well over a decade now. for the semantic standardization, many standards exists today (and that's the problem, as a standard is only useful when there is only one, that is used by all that need to interoperate).

   if the content is standards, and the communication is standard, there is no need to impose restrictions on how the various involved systems are built, since they can all share information without loss of content or of meaning...

   As for confidentiality and information security, which are critical when it comes to such personal information, solution architects solve these constraints on a daily basis, using well known mature patterns, and the technology to do so is widely available.

   So, if the administration wants to modernize the VA, or help modernize all the healthcare industry for that matter, it should concentrate on the following :


  • Adopt a single communication protocol that offers the required security and confidentiality
  • Adopt a single content and semantics standard for Electronic Health Records
  • set a regulatory context with a timeline for everyone to align with ability to exchange Electronic Health Records using the set standards.


  Why having the same software is not the solution ?


  Some might say that the interoperability route is more difficult to achieve than simply having everyone use the same software. After all, if a single software is chosen, then all records are in the same format, have the same meaning, and are exchanged in the exact same way. it seems to solve the problem much more easily, does it not ?


  Well, it does not !


  Starting point


  For the single software approach to work and provide the wanted value, all parties involved need to have the software operational. With the large number of deployments that are required, it takes a long time (RFPs to select the vendor, RFs and procurement for each deployment, time to deploy, test, stabilize, train ...etc.). Yet, those that start investing early do not reap the benefits until everyone is done...


  In addition, during the long time it takes to deploy the software everywhere, either the software version is frozen, or aligning everyone requires multiple iterations...


  The issue of versionning and evolvability


  Software is never perfect. It has a lifetime, including adding features, fixing bugs, dealing with issues that surface over time either through discovery of new hacking techniques, technology advancements that make old techniques more efficient, as well as dealing with evolving business and cultural environments. That is why almost all software would have, at various rhythms, patches and version upgrades.

  As long as the software is not constrained by a content standard, the records themselves would evolve over time, breaking the ability to exchange them between different versions of the software. Yet, if it is constrained by such a standard, what is the justification of forcing everyone to use the same software ?


  Vendor dependency and monopoly


  If all parties involved must use the same software, the vendor has way too much power over them. It raises too different problems, of two very different kinds :


  1. Monopoly :
    • Costs : Software vendors are companies, accountable to their shareholders for maximizing profit. When the government forces their customers to use their product, they will raise their prices accordingly, since the customers have no choice but to buy their product. Actually, they would be failing their responsibility vis-à-vis their shareholders if they do not do so. Prices are then not set relative to costs or competitive positioning, but according to the maximum they can charge customers without the customers preferring to be in violation of government regulation rather than pay those prices... It is closer to a blackmail situation than to a cost/value decision making. What makes it even worse is that the cost in continuously incurred, due to the need for support, servicing and upgrades.
    • Reduced Value : The selected vendor has no incentive to continuously provide more value as it has no competition, and customers have no choice but to use the software even when the value provided is not or no longer adequate.
  2. Vendor Failure

   Overtime, even the best, the strongest healthiest companies decline, either momentarily or permanently. When the vendor fails, or even just chooses to no longer offer the product, the customers are left with the need to migrate, all at once, to a new software, and to migrate all the existing records to the new software...


   Interoperability is still a requirement no matter what !


   In today's world, no software can afford to be isolated. The software that manages the Electronic Health records needs to communicate with other line of business systems (accounting, HR ...etc.) , which are bound to vary from one institution to the next. The system would still need to interoperate with all those, which requires adoption of standards, in which case, why have the same software to begin with ?


   So, why are they taking this approach


   like most political decisions, especially in a lobby funded election system, companies that can afford to invest large amounts can push decisions towards their own benefit, regardless of how senseless the decision may be.


   Some Healthcare software vendor has a lot to gain if it gets the monopolistic contract, and that's all that seems to matter...





Thoughts on the election of Trump president of the United States

I normally would not comment on recent events, because I don't like to post emotional responses. I normally would wait for the events to sink in, then I would only comment if I have rational thoughts to share.
However, I feel compelled to express some views about the cataclysmic election of Donald Trump to the US presidency. To be sure, I will not try in this post to analyse the causes and consequences, as any such analysis would be clouded by my very strong emotions at the moment. I will therefore limit my comments to a number of thoughts that would illustrate my state of mind without pretending that they have been fully thought through.

Is there a global rise in xenophobic sentiments ?

I am not sure there is, per se, a rise in xenophobia. However, there most certainly is a rise in "patriotic" and "Identity" based sentiments. Most of the people around the world, including the West and the Muslim world, have been made to feel attacked in their culture. The reaction to such perceived attack is always defensive, and take the form defiant actions and opinions, even from those that normally would be extremely critical of the what is being attacked.
So, is the western culture or the dominant culture in the Muslim world really being attacked ? It is extremely difficult to answer the question, as the perception has been building up and escalating for well over a decade. The only thing that is clear is that it is perceived from both sides as a blatant attack.
Looking around me, I see a large number of open minded, well educated people which would normally have very nuanced views about most subjects, becoming much more defensive and single minded, adopting along the way views they would normally have found repulsive. People that would normally be very critical of the patriarchal male dominated traditions and behaviors progressively adopting the defense of those same views and behaviors. People that would normally champion civil rights especially religious rights, the rights of Women and racial minorities, tolerance of difference in sexual orientation, and the values of human decency becoming more attached to preserving outdated traditions and rejecting differences.
SO, what is causing such radicalisation of views and opinions ? trying to isolate causes from effects is becoming a chicken and egg dilemma. When people are on the defensive, the worst thing to do is to challenge the basis of their views, as they perceive it as a challenge to their "Identity", and they react by defending those views even more, resulting in even more radicalisation. I believe the same goes for both sides, taking them further apart by the day. Without breaking the process and looking for unifying shared values instead of attacking the differences, it would only get worse.

Back to Trump and his divisive platform
Instead of attacking the basis of the platform that got Trump elected, I prefer to discuss some of the proposed policies from an angle that stresses the practicality and effects rather than the philosophy underlying it.


Banning Muslims from entering the US

The initial proposal of banning Muslims from entering the US is quite ridiculous, regardless of its morality. How would anyone determine if someone else is a Muslim? Or even, what is a Muslim? I have yet to find two people that believe the exact same thing. Even if one was to look only as subset of beliefs that seem to be shared by many Muslims, when one digs a little farther into how they interpret those beliefs, it is extremely difficult to find two persons that have similar, let alone identical interpretations. Even if it were possible to define what a Muslim is, how would one go about identifying one. Beliefs are not, at least with the current state of neuro-science, probable. There is no process or machine that would explore what someone’s beliefs are. Questioning people would not do the job, as their responses will always adapt to their objectives, and those that such a probe tries to find are the ones that would adapt their responses the most, as they have more clarity on what they want to hide.
Trump himself has back paddled, and is now speaking of “extreme vetting”. I do not see how this changes anything. Vetting people based on their views and beliefs is the issue. The targeted people are the ones that have the best ability to hide information and to slip through the cracks of the vetting process.


Extreme Vetting

Also, extreme vetting supposes that risks would be detected through incoherence or contradictions in one’s story. But people do not live their lives without contradictions, nor do they hold beliefs and views that are fully coherent. Detecting incoherencies or contradictions only amounts to detecting whether the person is human. If contradictions are considered a risk, then only those that have a made-up personality and story would succeed through the vetting process. The effect is to only accept those the process is supposed to reject.
Also, one of the most basic ways one can decide if an opinion or belief is good or bad is to think of how he would feel if it was applied to himself. Let us for a second imagine that my country would apply “extreme vetting” to decide on whether Donald Trump should be allowed to enter Morocco. I believe of that was to occur, it would not take a few seconds before rejecting him, as what he said about getting away with assaulting women immediately raises a flag about protecting Moroccan women’s rights. Did he actually commit any such act, or would he ever commit any such act? we cannot know, and the main thing about vetting is that it doesn’t have to be fair. It is supposed to remove risks rather than be fair.


Building a Wall

One other hallmark of the policies proposed by Donald Trump is "Building a Wall between the US and Mexico". The intent being to stop Mexicans to enter the US illegally.
There are very few countries whose people are as welcomed everywhere around the world as the US citizens. Most countries do not impose Visas or any other vetting process on them. I have seen, in so many countries, Americans that came in as visitors and decided to stay for some period of time. Many of them worked illegally during those stays. While those countries do not view the illegal American immigrants as a danger to their economies, there are nonetheless American immigrants that commit crimes, and there are radicalized people among them that may commit acts of terror. Yet, the US would defend any of its citizens caught in illegal activity in those countries. How is that any different from Mexicans illegally entering the US? Is the US a bully that would do whatever it wants around the world, and everyone else just has to bow down?
It is much more reasonable to deal with immigration problems through basic human decency and fairness. To curb immigration that affects one's economy, the best course of action is to work towards a world where people benefit from the same rights, and where the value of work becomes much more uniform. If Mexicans could earn good living while staying close their family and friends, very few would migrate to the United States. Only those that have skills that are more abundant in Mexico than in the United Stated would still migrate, and they would benefit both economies.


Isolationist tendencies and the direction of history

The rhetoric about nationalism goes against history, and is trying to resist a change that is absolutely inevitable in the social media era. People are connecting with each others regardless of national borders. Most Millennials do not see people from other countries as strange or distant. They see friends that share the same human values. Trying to prevent people from crossing borders to preserve one's culture is completely misguided, as it would only take a generation to loose any significance of the borders in the first place. The only pragmatic course of action is to adopt globalisation and work towards easing any disruptions along to way to achieving a global citizenship. Free Trade and free movement is bound to become reality. It is the responsibility of leadership to help their people gain the required competencies to compete in a global market, taking advantage from their assets and ecosystems, and allowing the slow opening up to play out and progressively align earnings and value of work to a global standard.



A stupid argument about laws of conservation and origins of the universe

I have been always interested in many philosophical arguments, including almost everything that has to do with existential questions, especially many theological arguments. Most common theological arguments I have seen are very old and very weak, and keep being rehashed to try and come up with harder to refute formulations. One argument I have only started seeing in the last few years seems to pick up some steam lately. It goes like this:

 1. The law of conservation of energy states that "Energy can neither be created nor destroyed". Energy can be transformed into matter and vice versa, or changed into another form of energy.
 2. The Big Bang Theory states that the universe did not exist before the Big Bang.
 3. The Universe currently has energy (in the form of matter and various forms of energy).
 4. Therefore the universe came to existence through some supernatural process.
 5. They then conclude that the universe is created by an agent (or in some cases just that the universe if more consistent with one that is created by an agent than with one that isn't). 


It seems this argument is responding to the growingly vocal scientists that push the idea that the universe may have come into existence from nothing. As long as the said scientists are only talking about a possibility and not claiming that the universe actually spontaneously sprung into existence from nothing (if they did, they would have to produce real empirical evidence), I do not see what anyone can object in the current state of knowledge. In the above argument, however, I see a large number of flaws and hidden unwarranted assumptions.

 Conservation of energy and the Uncertainty Principle
The first serious issue with the argument is that the law of conservation of energy only applies to measured energy quantities. The Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle shows that energy is not always conserved, but if we measure the energy of a system at any two moments, then the law of conservation of energy applies between the two measures. During the time between the measures, the energy can fluctuate by any quantity as long as it only does so during intervals that are inversely proportional to the fluctuation. Stated differently, the energy can increase by large amounts, as long as it does so for an interval of time small enough. To get any measure of any precision, the measure itself must span an interval of time. It so happens that the interval of time where the energy of a system can have a variation of some value is smaller than the interval of time required to measure that energy with a precision smaller than the value of the variation, thus any such variation is not measurable. However, that variation can have other effects that may and have been detected.
There is empirical evidence that in a vacuum (empty space), particles do actually pop in and out of existence all the time (there appearance as well as their disappearance are both violations of the law of conservation of energy).
Now, if the fluctuation created for a short period of time some positive energy, and another fluctuation created an equal amount of negative energy with the short time, the total energy would be zero, and the initial fluctuation could be caused to not cancel out. Although speculative, this scenario is not in violation of physical laws. Something could be created from nothing, as long as all conserved quantities including energy are still equal to zero.


 Conservation of energy and isolated systems
When we say that "Energy can neither be created nor destroyed", all we are saying is that any increase in the energy of a system has to come from the exterior of the system, and that any decrease has to be transferred to the exterior of the system.
If the system is isolated (has no interaction with the exterior of the system), then we can state that the total energy remains constant.
So, do we know that the universe is isolated? It depends on the definition of the Universe.
If what we mean by the universe is "all of space-time and all its contents", then the answer is that "in the current state of knowledge, it is isolated". The lack of knowledge about the conditions at the beginning of time (i.e. in the infinitesimally small fractions of a second following the Big Bang) does not allow us to actually fully answer the question, as there could have been interactions with something external in the time between the Big Bang and one millionth of a millionth of a second afterward.
Since the argument is dealing exactly with what happened at the moment of the Big Bang, one can postulate nothing about the universe being isolated. It may be counter-intuitive, as our intuition cannot guide us when time is not there, nor in dealing with the nothing of something external to space and time. However, there is no fundamental law, nor is it probable that reality has to be intuitive. Actually, we do know of aspects of reality that are counter-intuitive, especially the whole set of Quantum phenomena.
Even if the law of conservation of energy is applicable, we do not know if it would mean that there could be no increase in the energy of the Universe, as long as we do not have evidence that we are only considering conditions in which the universe is an isolated system.
What would be external to the Universe? Well, the current state of knowledge does not provide any answer, but many speculative ideas can be proposed. One of the prevalent hypotheses about the early universe is "Cosmic Inflation", which is supported by many observations, even though more empirical evidence is still needed for it to reach the full status of a scientific theory. If there was a Cosmic Inflation, then it is highly probable that our universe is not the only one, and Universes would be springing into existence all the time. This idea about a "Multiverse" composed of many universes could also result from other hypotheses if they are true. Though very speculative at the moment, this idea is one way there could be "something" outside of the universe.
Many have tried to use recursion to say that if there is something external to the universe, one could just take whatever the whole including the universe and whatever is outside of it, and apply the same "conservation of energy" argument. The problem is that we have no knowledge if such a whole would have a beginning at all.


 Does the Big Bang Theory say "The universe did not exist before the Big Bang"?
Actually, the Big Bang theory states that space-time started at the Big Bang. It is not just semantics to say that it does not state "the universe did not exist before the Big Bang", as there is no such thing as "Before the Big Bang", since time did not exist.
Trying to discuss what caused the "Big Bang" may simply make no sense, as causality (at least the common meaning of the term) requires time.

I have heard some people argue that time may not have an actual starting point, and the beginning of time could be asymptotic when we get close to the Big Bang. I have all kind of issues with this idea, including:
• To speak of an asymptote, we need at least two dimensions. The idea speaks of time having an asymptotic behavior in time. This requires time to have at least two dimensions, one of which would be asymptotic relative to the other. Unless this can be formulated clearly (including what these time dimensions are), the idea is just nonsense.
• For this idea to have any explanatory power about the early time after the Big Bang, there should be some refinement of the Big Bang theory, which is neither called for by any empirical evidence, nor proposed in any well formulated hypothesis. The Big Bang theory is based on the expansion of the universe, and if there is no change in physical law during the whole existence of time, then the universe would have been a single point at a certain moment in time. If the time dimension in this formulation is the one that is asymptotic relative to whatever other dimension, then the time dimension would not have a starting point and there would be no need for a Big Bang. If on the other hand, the time dimension in the formulation of the big bang theory is the one relative to which some other dimension is asymptotic, the asymptotic nature of this hypothetical dimension has no relevance to the argument.


 The Universe currently has energy

This statement is actually a bad formulation. Energy is a quantity that can be positive, negative or zero. It is not a property that can either be present or absent.
A correct formulation of what is intended, as far as I can tell, is "The Universe currently has a non-zero energy". How do we know that?
It is not sufficient to say that since there is matter, and there are measurable energy quantities in the universe, the total energy would somehow necessarily be non-negative… one would still need to be able to either measure all components of the total energy and show that they add up to a non-zero quantity, or have a way to measure the total energy and show that it is not zero. I have seen different arguments, but most of the attempts I have seen center around determining the energy density at large enough scales so that it is homogeneous throughout the universe, and then integrating the energy density (taking into consideration that the measured curvature of space is very close to that of a flat universe). Many of these attempts result in a total energy of the universe being zero or undefined (as in the case if the universe is infinite).
Although I do not master the physics involved, it is quite clear to me that there is no agreement that the total energy in the universe would be non-zero.
The premise that the Universe has non-zero energy is not substantiated at all. That alone renders the argument completely moot.


 "The universe came to existence through a supernatural process"

Such a statement is simply not scientific. If a scientist encounters evidence that cannot be explained by our understanding of reality (or of nature), he would not hypothesize that some supernatural process is involved. He would instead try to refine our understanding of nature (refining laws of physics that pose a problem).
Although this is a bias, as the scientist would not be open to any supernatural explanation of anything, the argument is trying to use science to prove a point, and therefore must abide by the methods of science. If the methods of science are not accepted, then there can be no substantiation to any of the premises. If they are accepted, then even if the first three premises were true, it would just show a limitation in current theories including the involved laws of physics, and definitely not any involvement of anything supernatural.


 From "Supernatural Process" To "Created by an Agent"
I simply do not see how one can make such an inference. Going from a process to an agent requires going into what the process is (or at least what it is likely to be).


 Summary of the main hidden assumptions

Assumption 1: The Universe is an isolated system
Even if the universe was shown to have a non-zero total energy, and it came to existence at the Big Bang, if the universe is not an isolated system, all one can say it that there must be a decrease in the energy that resides outside of the universe at the moment of the Big Bang.

Assumption 2: The total energy of the universe is currently non-zero
Even if the Universe was an isolated system, came to existence at the Big Bang, and the law of conservation of energy was applicable at the moment of the Big Bang, if the total energy of the universe was currently zero, then the universe could just have come out from nothing without violating the law of conservation of energy (Many other aspects would still need to be explained, but at least the law of conservation of energy would not be the issue at all).

Assumption 3: Both Causality and the law of conservation of energy holds outside of time
As far as we know, the law of conservation of energy requires the existence of time. It describes what is a possible change in the state of a system, and what is not. We do not know how change can be defined without the existence of time. If change could be defined outside of time, we don't know how the law of conservation of energy would be formulated, and whether it would hold.

Assumption 4: Anything that violates the law of conservation of energy is supernatural
Even if the first three assumptions were true, it would only show that the law of conservation of energy is not applicable to the moment of the Big Bang. That would be a limitation of the law, and would push scientists to refine the law, or to discover another theory that would be applicable. It would not show that the Big Bang cannot be explained by natural processes and phenomena.

Assumption 5: Anything "caused" by a supernatural process is created by an agent
Even if one was to somehow accept that the "universe came into existence by some supernatural process", there is no way to go from there to "the universe is created by an agent".


My Verdict:

Assumptions 1 through 3 are not substantiated by any evidence, assumption 4 is not only unsubstantiated, it is at least false in the case of virtual-particles, and assumption 5 is pretty much devoid of meaning. The argument is as weak as a simple assertion of a conclusion without any argument.


Are we in Paris ? I thought this **** was only posible in the worst third world cities...

Today, I am having a very bad day/night as a father...

Yeaterday afternoon, my wife and son (a little less than 4 years old) who were paying me a visit in Paris (yes, I am spending too much time in paris for few month), were going back home. Only, yesterday, and for all day, it was snowing (actually very light snow, culminating at some 50 mm of stacked snow). Not only the airline (well, I know, the worst airline on the face of the planet : Air France) was saying that the flight will be on time, they had previsions for other flights that were'nt so optimistic, but kept saying that one was on target.

They were supposed to leave at 18h50. air france kept changing the supposed expected leave time for 3 hours (they were saying the fuel trucks were unable to reach the plane ! ) and then just cancelled the flight.

The worst is that by the time they finally cancelled the flight, all traffic in Paris and its suburbs were totally stopped (by no more than 5 cm -- less than 2 ─▒nches-- of snow).

I was totally unable to get to them or for them to get back to the city. Worst of all, air france aid they were unable to get them to a hotel, and that they had to spend the night in the airport (basically it meant my wife had to fight for a chair for my son to sleep on...).

I have no comment really, as it has gone well beyond any comment except this :"Are we really in Paris ? It sound more like we are in some god forsaken small village in some extremely poor 3rd world country...