2007-04-26

WTF CNN?

Following up my rant about television news, I find CNN a worthless platform for infotainment. With so much trouble in the World they will not report, I find their assertion of being a news organisation offensive. It is not even funny, typically relying upon shock, fear, and anger as its hook to sell adverts. I question Google's default link to CNN on their personalised page. If infotainment is what you seek, at least watch Colbert or read the Onion before you turn on CNN. WTF CNN seems like a great blog elucidating the absurdity of CNN and is at least distilled comedic infotainment. Video of Jon Stewart's legendary appearance on CNN's Crossfire.

Thanks to Meredith for the link.

Wealth and Efficiency at the Cost of Privacy

The Economist has an article about the coming wireless revolution. Gradually, wireless-enabled microchips will be embedded in almost everything that is manufactured turning our cities into giant sensor nets. The benefits of this will be unprecedented, but so will the ability for even the average person to spy on almost anything. It is Little Brother rather than Big Brother who will be the menace of the 21st Century. I believe that no matter what the laws are, in future privacy will be all but eliminated. People will do well to live their lives with this in mind.

2007-04-24

Debating the Future

This BBC article concerns a debate being held by London's Science Museum regarding the future impact robotics will play in our lives and how liability for robot behaviour and mistakes will be determined. Addressing future technological impact in a mature way is healthy for our society. It allows us to look forward, to consider and shape the world and society in which we actually want to live. Rather than Anna Nicole's baby daddy, at such a critical point in human evolution, society should be considering privacy rights, reproductive regulation, genetic engineering, and particularly environmental protection. Simply put: long term welfare.

Theoretical Physicist, Michio Kaku, concluding 'Parallel Worlds':
The generation now alive is perhaps the most important generation of humans ever to walk the Earth. Unlike previous generations, we hold in our hands the future destiny of our species, whether we soar into fulfilling our promise as a type I civilization or fall into the abyss of chaos, pollution, and war. Decisions made by us will reverberate throughout this century. How we resolve global wars, proliferating nuclear weapons, and sectarian and ethnic strife will either lay or destroy the foundations of a type I civilization. Perhaps the purpose and meaning of the current generation are to make sure that the transition to a type I civilization is a smooth one. The choice is ours. This is the legacy of the generation now alive. This is our destiny.

Personally, I have no fear of robotics, though I expect to be held completely liable for any damages my machines may one day cause. I welcome the day that machines exceed my own intelligence and the day that people merge themselves with intelligent or even spiritual machines.

Social Choice and Voting Systems

The Economist's blog, Free Exchange, has a post relating the characteristics of the French election to Arrow's Impossibility Theorem, (pdf proof) from Kenneth Arrow's 'A Difficulty in the Concept of Social Welfare,' The Journal of Political Economy, Volume 58, Issue 4 (August, 1950), pp. 328–346. This and his more comprehensive book 'Social Choice and Individual Values' won him the Nobel Prize in 1972. The theorem explains the inefficiency of voting systems with more than two candidates and more than one voter in determining the one candidate who is the social optimum. It can be shown that in some voting scenarios, the aggregate outcome can produce a result which is below the social optimum. In the case of France, François Bayrou was the clear social optimum, but in only a two round election system, the results were polarised in the first round between Ségozy and Sarkolène as Jean-Marie Le Pen called them. The United States also has a particularly inefficient selection system where geographic area and party affiliation vote on a candidate in the primaries, then geographic areas vote again for a president who is elected then by several hundred members of the Electoral College. For example, Albert Gore won the popular election but ultimately lost the election in the Electoral College. The inefficiency of voting systems can also be exacerbated or exploited as in Tom Delay's infamous Tejas redistricting of 2003.

It should be stated that a voting system based on modern information technology could easily be far superior to all of the 18th Century systems currently in use.

2007-04-18

The Economics of Climate Change

In fall 2006, the Stern Review of the Economics of Climate Change,a British government commissioned study, was released. Most scientific or economic criticisms have said that the review did not go far enough in assessing the effect of climate change, although it did present extremely stark warnings for the future. Martin Weitzman has a upcoming book review of the Stern Review in the upcoming Journal of Economic Literature. Brad DeLong also has a great post on this topic. Combined with UN reports on climate change, the evidence for highly destructive global climate change is conclusive and undeniable. The solutions to this crisis are clear, and yet the corruption and inefficiency of the geopolitical system allows the perpetuation of such egregious harm to life on Earth and human well being. How and when will it end?

2007-04-17

Quantifiable Advantages of a Large City

An article in Scientific American pointed me to an interesting article in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. From SciAm:
"This is a fascinating paper that quantitatively explores the complex interactions between urbanization, sustainability and social innovation...Insights, such as those presented in this paper, will help guide our collective choices as the pace of socioecological change accelerates."

-Thomas Parris

2007-04-14

2007-04-10

Privatised Currency

Introductory Economics teaches that there are 3 fundamental properties of money: divisibility, transferability, and storing of value. Traditionally, various commodities which were rare, small, and relatively indestructible such as precious metals were the dominant currency or at least backed the value of dominant currencies. As governments became more stable and dominant in people's lives in the last two centuries, they were able to abandon all commodity backing of their treasury notes whilst letting currencies stand on their own merit as stores of value. This served to further governments grip over its populace by permitting enormous macroscopic control over wealth, interest rates, and inflation in the economy for good or ill.

We are now entering the information age where anyone may be able to create their own effective "virtual" currencies through modern technology. This soon will allow encrypted and anonymous transactions which will effectively transfer value beneath the radar of government. Governments will try to suppress this activity, but ultimately currency simply represents information and the preservation of information is a law of physics. With satellite internet available in a wristwatch, who will possibly be able to destroy the flow of information? Currency is an important example of the gradual inevitable decline in power and authority of governments and the rise of the multinational corporations as the dominant world powers of the future. After all, the modern system of Nation-States is an idea less than 200 years old, having been created at the Congress of Vienna. It will pass, like all previous forms of rule and diplomacy, into mere history texts.

The currencies of the near future will be varied, exchangeable, customised to individual financial needs and desires, and backed by a tradable basket of securities. To buy a haircut, you could be paying with shares of IBM and GOOG whilst the barber is receiving credit towards his new telescreen and futures contracts on organic wheat. I must thank David Friedman for first sharing this revelation with me in his book 'The Machinery of Freedom.'

This post was prompted by this WSJ article describing the current "virtual" currency, QQ, now being suppressed in Zhong Guo for doing just what I have described, undermining the legitimacy of the Yuan. As with other forms of information oppression, Zhong Guo is doomed to fail.

Never Slap the Gift Donkey

A good friend of mine has a new blog, 'Never Slap the Gift Donkey.' (feed) It promises to be completely random, and always entertaining.

Architectural Blog

Following up on de Botton, since architecture is one of my passive interests, I have begun following '[The] Daily Dose of Architecture' blog. Architecture and more generally urban planning are often ignored but extremely important subjects. Like the natural world, changes in our artificially constructed world tends to change gradually, making it easy to ignore the big picture. Meanwhile their real impact on our lives, though difficult to quantify, is at least equivalent to most other factors. Living in the United States, I am daily confronted by congestion, sprawl, cheap construction, and shameful architectural design and urban planning. Bob Marley (discography) rightly referred to the modern cities of Babylon as "Concrete Jungles." Americans especially have allowed their lives to become dominated by the illusory convenience, comfort, and sexiness of their automobiles. In so doing, they have sacrificed their society, economy, environment, and quality of life. Now many emerging economies are in danger of making the same mistakes. Just as travel enriches us by exposing us to new and varied cultures, attitudes, and lifestyles, constant exposure and reminders of new architectural ideas can similarly enrich our lives, foster creativity, and help redirect our long term thinking to a forward, positive direction.

Please feel free to recommend other quality sites.

Alain de Botton

Son of a wealthy Swiss banker and a Cambridge scholar of philosophy, literature, and architecture, Alain de Botton has produced several documentary series focusing on how an understanding of philosophy, conscious architectural design, or approach to travel can significantly improve one's life. Breaking down trends in our modern Western lives to their simplest terms, de Botton skillfully calls our ambitions, attitudes, and decisions into question by merely stating the obvious while doing homage to great thinkers of the past.

Perfect Home
Philosophy: A Guide to Happiness
Art of Travel
Status Anxiety
How Proust Can Change Your Life

2007-04-04

LEDs

A FT article about the development of the Blue LED, which makes possible white LEDs. This technology is set to vastly reduce world energy consumption and improve quality of life. Note the willingness of some corporations to completely screw employees that have made them billions of dollars for extremely little pay. Yet another reason to have a significant ownership or partnership interest in your company.

Progress in Environmental Protection

No thanks to Republican appointed Supreme Court justices, the Supreme Court ruled April 2 that the Environmental Protection Agency must regulate the emissions of greenhouse gasses. Enforcement of this obligation will still be an uphill battle with Republicans controlling the Presidency, but the precedent of this decision could have positive lasting consequences. The dissenting viewpoint of the Republican judges that this type of ruling exceeds the limited authority of the courts in a democratic society if anything undermines the legal authority of the Constitution of the United States itself. How can the Supreme Court have no authority to rule on the necessity to regulate a pollutant which exacerbates a mass extinction event? NY Times opinion.