News — At The Edge — 5/5

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  • A confusing future — digital government, killer robots & technological change — lead to a questioning of priorities.
  • Bad omens for the future — authoritarianism and greed — will not go away quietly.

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A confusing future

How Estonia built a digital first government (9:50 min. video) —

“From filing taxes to accessing medical records to voting, 99 percent of all government services in Estonia are available online. Accessed at the state portal using an ID card, Estonia is the first nation in the world to declare the internet a social right.”

When weapons can think for themselves —

“AI that might give machines — ’killer robots’ — the responsibility for deciding how wars are fought, and who gets killed….

[So] swarms of small, low-cost drones locked in aerial combat, maneuvering with superhuman co-ordination…both excites and disturbs the military [that]…know they are entering an era in which algorithms will determine success on the battlefield, and humans may be unable to keep up with the pace of combat….

Weapons with narrow autonomy…able to activate themselves — for example to respond to a cyber-attack at the speed of light — will pose some risks of escalation. But when combined with human-controlled systems…they may improve precision and situational awareness, and be capable of better split-second analysis than people….

Fully autonomous weapons which can plan, solve problems and extrapolate from experience…[present] dangers and moral issues…so profound that it is in humanity’s interest to seek ways of controlling the technology….

But arms-control agreements work only when there is reliable verification. The essence of autonomy…is software…making transparency very difficult….[Some] insist on ‘meaningful’ human oversight, but…given the ubiquity of AI, what use might terrorists, devoid of compunction, make of it?” https://www.economist.com/news/books-and-arts/21741128-paul-scharre-explores-dystopian-prospect-daunting-implications-when-weapons-can

How much would you pay to keep using Google? —

“Between 1946 and 1975, America’s GDP per person grew at an average annual rate of 2.3% a year…[but] grown by just 1.8% a year since….

[GDP] only takes into account goods and services…people pay money for. Internet firms like Google and Facebook do not charge consumers for access, which means that national-income statistics will underestimate how much consumers have benefitted from their rise….

[Study] said that they would have to be paid $3,600 to give up internet maps for a year, and $8,400 to give up e-mail. Search engines appear to be especially valuable: consumers surveyed said that they would have to be paid $17,500 to forgo their use for a year.https://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2018/04/daily-chart-16

Five Things We Need to Know About Technological Change by Neil Postman —

“[I]t is a delusion to believe that the technological changes of our era have rendered irrelevant the wisdom of the ages and the sages….

  1. The first idea is that all technological change is a trade-off…[so] for every advantage a new technology offers, there is always a corresponding disadvantage…[and] the greater the wonders of a technology, the greater will be its negative consequences. Think of the automobile, which for all of its…advantages, has poisoned our air, choked our cities, and degraded…our natural landscape….Printing gave us…nationhood, but in so doing turned patriotism into a sordid [emotion]….
  2. [Second] the advantages and disadvantages of new technologies are never distributed evenly among the population….[Computers] advantageous to large-scale organizations…[but] to what extent has [it]…been an advantage to the masses…[who] are more easily tracked and controlled…increasingly mystified by the decisions made about them…[and] easy targets for advertising agencies and political institutions….[T]he winners speak constantly [that]…more information we have, the better…. But how true is this? If there are children starving in the world — and there are — it is not because of insufficient information….
  3. [Third] in every technology there is a powerful idea…often hidden from our view because [abstract]…[yet] practical consequences….[E]very technology has a prejudice. Like language…it predisposes us to favor and value certain perspectives….[TV] values immediacy, not history….[Thus] every technology has a philosophy…given expression in how [it]…makes people use their minds…in how it codifies the world…senses it amplifies [and]…emotional and intellectual tendencies it disregards. This idea is the sum and substance of…’The medium is the message’….
  4. [Fourth] Technological change is not additive; it is ecological….A new medium does not add something; it changes everything….[In] 1500, after the printing press was invented, you did not have old Europe plus the printing press. You had a different Europe….The consequences of technological change are always vast, often unpredictable and largely irreversible….
  5. [Fifth] media tend to become mythic…[as if] part of the natural order…not as artifacts produced in a specific political and historical context. When a technology become mythic, it is…dangerous because it is then accepted as it is, and…not easily susceptible to modification or control…[as] a form of idolatry and…[so] belief in its beneficence can be a false absolute….[I]ts capacity for good or evil rests entirely on human awareness of what it does for us and to us. …

[In sum] we always pay a price for technology; the greater the technology, the greater the price….[Second] there are always winners and losers, and…winners always try to persuade the losers…they are really winners….[Third] every great technology has an epistemological, political or social prejudice….Fourth, technological change is not additive; it is ecological [and]…changes everything….[Fifth] technology tends to become mythic…[it]…tends to control more of our lives than is good for us….

In the past, we experienced technological change in the manner of sleep-walkers….This is a form of stupidity….We need to proceed with our eyes wide open so that we many use technology rather than be used by it.” https://www.dgsiegel.net/files/refs/Postman%20-%20Five%20Things%20We%20Need%20to%20Know%20about%20Technological%20Change.pdf

Bad omens for the future

GOP candidates are now mimicking Trump’s authoritarianism. That’s ominous. —

“[Republicans] in tough primaries are increasingly emulating…Trump — by echoing his xenophobia…racist appeals…attacks on the news media, and…calls for imprisoning his political opponents….

[So] there is a large swath of GOP primary voters who are fully prepared to march behind Trump into full-blown authoritarianism….

[Speaker] Ryan and Sen. Marco Rubio were supposed to create a youthful, forward-looking [GOP]….[but ] on his way out Ryan has acquiesced to Trump’s nativist nationalism and has lent his tacit support to the weaponization of Congress’ oversight machinery [and]…assaults on our institutions and the rule of law….

It is not hard to envision many GOP candidates siding with Trump as a way to energize [and]…them against the investigation….In other words, the GOP’s slide into authoritarianism could get a whole lot worse.https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2018/04/23/multiple-gop-candidates-are-now-mimicking-trumps-authoritarianism/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.77ef58e098c6

Ukraine, Seeking U.S. Missiles, Halted Cooperation With Mueller Investigation —

“[Paul] Manafort is facing prosecution…[for] decade of work for a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine…[but] Trump’s former campaign chairman [case]…[has] been effectively frozen by Ukraine’s chief prosecutor…[as] too sensitive for a government deeply reliant on United States financial and military aid….

Ukrainian investigators had been tracing money paid to Mr. Manafort and a New York law firm…[by] the Russian-leaning Ukrainian president who…fled the country in 2014….

[Manafort’s] four investigations…were not closed…[but blocked] from issuing subpoenas for evidence or interviewing witnesses…[in] multimillion dollar transfers to Mr. Manafort from politicians…that underpin indictments filed by Mr. Mueller…[for] money laundering and tax evasion….

[Also] Ukrainian law enforcement allowed a potential witness to…collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia to leave for Russia, putting him out of reach for questioning….

Ukrainian government…[concluded] that any help prosecuting Mr. Manafort could bring down Mr. Trump’s wrath…[so] ‘everybody is afraid of this case.’” https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/02/world/europe/ukraine-mueller-manafort-missiles.html

The flaws of finance —

“The finance sector has four key functions….

  1. operate the payments system…
  2. channel money from savers to those who need capital…
  3. provides liquidity to the system by making markets…[and] prices for financial assets…
  4. helps people manage physical and financial risk.

These functions are all very useful…[but] economy could not operate without power and heat, water and sewage services, public transport [etc.]…[yet] do not get the same level of rewards….

  • Financial markets aren’t free. Deposit-taking banks rely on a public subsidy in the form of deposit insurance that… reduces the chance of bankruptcy…creates high barriers to entry…reduces competition and thus enhances profits…[and] heavily affected by central banks…[like] quantitative easing…..It wasn’t a deliberate public subsidy but it worked that way.
  • The customer tends to come second, not first. There have been too many scandals, over too many years [where]…those inside [had]…informational advantage [and]…main price setter….
  • Skill and luck are hard to distinguish. In the boom…bankers earn bonuses…[that] go wrong during the bust phase [when]…bankers will have moved on….[So] looking after other people’s money has been a popular way of getting rich…[by] being lucky.
  • The social costs are high….[Bank] assets (the loans it makes) are long-term and its liabilities (deposits) are short-term. Modern banking piled a whole set of other activities on top of this[so] very hard to spot where the risks are…[and] top management ‘were incapable of even understanding the risks…let alone managing them’…[yet] Trump administration is committed to reducing regulation….[But] cost needs to be accounted for.
  • Wealth does not equal wisdom, but it does equal power….[Finance] over the past 20 years…has spent $8bn lobbying Congress…. But if those riches have been earned by luck, or an implicit taxpayer subsidy, then it does not make sense to put such people in charge.”

https://www.economist.com/blogs/buttonwood/2018/05/overpaid-over-important-and-over-geared

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