E-sports aren’t nearly the weirdest event to have graced the several iterations of Madison Square Garden, which hosted poultry shows during a more agrarian age and week-long walking races that thrilled a pre-automobile audience. The question is whether the action, mostly virtual, at the League of Legends World Championship, which held its semifinals recently at MSG, announces a new and lasting arena-friendly competition or if someday these gatherings will be looked back on as are handsome chickens and panting pedestrians.

After attending the LLWC gathering, Jason Gay of the Wall Street Journal was transformed from skeptic to (sort of a) true believer, despite his Frogger Era upbringing. “If you are a serious e-sports fan, I apologize that this column probably reads as if the Journal sent a dog to cover the World Series,” he says, in one of his typically witty articles.

Without necessarily understanding the game, Gay explains the culture and the seemingly mysterious allure of people watching a screen showing other people playing a game on another screen. God knows if such a spectacle will truly sustain, but the NFL in 2016 probably wishes its athletes were comprised of pixels, unblemished by domestic-violence charges and undiminished by brain injuries.

An excerpt:

We arrived Friday night to a cascade of thousands walking into the Garden. E-sports owns a rap for being a predominantly male audience—unlike, say, a Jets game, which is a richly cosmopolitan crowd—but there were a good number of women. I’d say the average age was somewhere in the early to mid-20s. Josh and I stuck out like Regis Philbin and Larry King.

Inside, the arena was packed, loud, happy. This really threw Josh. He is a lifelong Knicks fan whose family had season tickets to the team for years. He’s not used to seeing enthusiasm at Madison Square Garden.

If you’re wondering if e-sports really is people sitting in an arena watching other people play videogames, I’m going to give it to you straight: It really is people sitting in an arena watching other people play videogames.

But the drama was fascinating! Underneath an enormous four-sized jumbo screen, two five-person teams were positioned at the Garden’s center, like Ali vs. Frazier: SK Telecom T1 and the Rox Tigers, both of South Korea. (South Korea is to e-sports what Brazil is to soccer.) They had nicknames like Peanut, Joker, Bang, Wolf and Faker. (Yes: e-sports names are about 900 times cooler than golf nicknames.) The 20-year-old Faker (real name: Lee Sang-hyeok) is considered the Michael Jordan of e-sports, a revolutionary player who has transformed the game.

“Faker right now is the greatest of all time,” said a fan behind me, Elias Vargas, 17, who’d driven to the Garden from Lancaster, Pa with two friends. “He does things, like his rotations and his mechanical skills, that nobody has reached.”

I’m not going to pretend any of this made sense to me.•




From the May 11, 1910 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:



In an excellent New York Times Magazine piece, Jenna Wortham writes of the boon and bane that attends Barack Obama being the “first digital President,” the one who ushered into D.C. the start-up spirit of technologists, significantly shrinking the distance between the Y Combinator and K Street. 

Silicon Valley’s ideas and energy can be an intoxicating engine of creativity and leaders in that community claim to want to satisfy all the world’s wants, but let’s not forget these are huge corporations primarily concerned with the bottom line, not justice or equality or paying taxes. When Travis Kalanick briefly uses Iraq War veterans to try to foster good will, keep in mind that he has no long-term commitment to them. Most of the industry doesn’t view Washington as a sibling but as a profligate son.

Even truly benevolent titans like the sweater-clad 2.0 version of Bill Gates (formerly a bullying, vampiric capitalist) talks openly about how he doesn’t want the government to have his money because he can spend it more wisely. Perhaps that’s true in his case, but you wouldn’t want to base a country on such thinking. The gritty work of Congress should not and cannot have the brevity and grace of a particularly satisfying TED Talk.

As Wortham further notes, “fixing problems with technology often just creates more problems, largely because technology is never developed in a neutral way,” and that’s a challenge that will only grow more profound as AI develops further. She does, however, credit President Obama with realizing the limits of venture capital to cure the world’s ills, referencing his recent address at Carnegie Mellon. An excerpt from that speech:

The final thing I’ll say is that government will never run the way Silicon Valley runs because, by definition, democracy is messy. This is a big, diverse country with a lot of interests and a lot of disparate points of view. And part of government’s job, by the way, is dealing with problems that nobody else wants to deal with.

So sometimes I talk to CEOs, they come in and they start telling me about leadership, and here’s how we do things. And I say, well, if all I was doing was making a widget or producing an app, and I didn’t have to worry about whether poor people could afford the widget, or I didn’t have to worry about whether the app had some unintended consequences — setting aside my Syria and Yemen portfolio — then I think those suggestions are terrific. (Laughter and applause.) That’s not, by the way, to say that there aren’t huge efficiencies and improvements that have to be made.

But the reason I say this is sometimes we get, I think, in the scientific community, the tech community, the entrepreneurial community, the sense of we just have to blow up the system, or create this parallel society and culture because government is inherently wrecked. No, it’s not inherently wrecked; it’s just government has to care for, for example, veterans who come home. That’s not on your balance sheet, that’s on our collective balance sheet, because we have a sacred duty to take care of those veterans. And that’s hard and it’s messy, and we’re building up legacy systems that we can’t just blow up.•

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In 1789, Benjamin Franklin identified death and taxes as the only things we can be certain of. It wasn’t a completely original quote, but it seemed a permanent truth, with no one betting against the continued presence of graveyards and other shovel-ready projects. Some Futurists would like to make a liar of the most famous kite flier, delivering to our doorsteps a-mortality and post-scarcity, like a couple of pizzas lowered gently by a drone.

On the economic side of things, Transhumanist Presidential candidate, Zoltan Istvan, not a fan of tariffs, recently found a kindred soul in visionary Venus Project architect and theorist Jacque Fresco, who even at 100 years old still hopes to radically remake our cash-and-ownership economy into a resource-based one.

In a Vice “Motherboard” piece, Istvan argues that Fresco’s far-out ideas, which would not only eliminate taxes but also currency, may be the best means to preventing violent upheaval should the robots devour all the jobs. An excerpt:

Over the next 20 years, I see automation taking nearly all jobs, and I doubt capitalism will survive that. As a result, I advocate for beginning the process of eliminating taxes and doling out a universal basic income—one that swallows welfare, Social Security, and all health services. Otherwise, I see inequality dramatically growing and an even larger befuddled welfare system than we have now. When robots take all the jobs, I also see civil strife and revolution occurring if corporations and the government don’t give back enough to society.

For me, the most important aspect of the future is to actually get there, and I worry that without giving something to unemployed humans, a dystopic society of violence and chaos will come about. The last thing America—and the scientific community—needs is a civil war.

Some experts have predicted that fully automated luxury communism is the way to go, and it’s a term increasingly being thrown around. Basically, it argues that humans should be pampered by technology, and to do so, communism should finally become the dominant economic system. Fresco doesn’t buy this.

He thinks that if we could just get rid of money and ownership, most of the humanity’s problems would disappear. And he claims only a resource-based economy—an idea he said he’s been working on since he was 13 years old—could do this.

The resource-based economy goes like this: In the future robots will do all the jobs (including creating new robots and fixing broken one). Now, imagine the world is like a public library, where you can borrow any book you want but never own it. Fresco wants all enterprise like this, whether it’s groceries, new tech, gasoline, or alcohol. He wants everything free and eventually provided to us by robots, software, and automation.•

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"I am looking for a real vampire."
Someone saying he represents BuzzFeed thinks I’m a “Human Vampire,” but I’ve never claimed to be human! From today’s Afflictor inbox:

Buzzfeed searching for Human Vampires – A new DocuFollow! Want in??? Email NOW! 


My name is Costas Nicolas and im a casting coordinator at Buzzfeed. Im currently casting a new series for buzzfeed where we follow a person throughout 24 hours of their lives.  

The premise would be that our host is completely fish out of water with no judgement. She is not there to form an opinion, nor to belittle anyone. Im looking for people who do live in Los Angeles but I am open to other states if the person is ideal.
This series is being developed to garner understanding without prejudice as we really want to get to hear someones story.

Let me know if you want to set up a time to chat that suits your timeframe!

Does this interest you at all???


Allan Pinkerton had an idea in 1857: Why not use the new technology of photography to create a pictorial file of repeat offenders causing the majority of the crime? That way the police could become familiar with broken noses and twisted smiles, making it easier to round up the usual suspects. The word “database” wouldn’t be coined for another century, but that’s essentially what the Rogues’ Gallery was. The subjects may have been uncooperative at times, but one way or another they were made to pose.

Now we’re all rogues, or at least suspected of such behavior. Here’s the opening two sentences from a recent Ars Technica article by David Kravets:

Half of American adults are in a face-recognition database, according to a Georgetown University study released Tuesday. That means there’s about 117 million adults in a law enforcement facial-recognition database, the study by Georgetown’s Center on Privacy & Technology says.

While such files can be viewed as an invasion of privacy by police, an invitation for us all to be pre-criminalized, they also pose another problem: As tools improve, these images may be used to steal identities. And it’s not just limited to faces–our voices may also be stolen right out of the air.

From John Markoff at the New York Times:

Imagine receiving a phone call from your aging mother seeking your help because she has forgotten her banking password.

Except it’s not your mother. The voice on the other end of the phone call just sounds deceptively like her.

It is actually a computer-synthesized voice, a tour-de-force of artificial intelligence technology that has been crafted to make it possible for someone to masquerade via the telephone.

Such a situation is still science fiction — but just barely. It is also the future of crime.

The software components necessary to make such masking technology widely accessible are advancing rapidly. Recently, for example, DeepMind, the Alphabet subsidiary known for a program that has bested some of the top human players in the board game Go, announced that it had designed a program that “mimics any human voice and which sounds more natural than the best existing text-to-speech systems, reducing the gap with human performance by over 50 percent.”

The irony, of course, is that this year the computer security industry, with $75 billion in annual revenue, has started to talk about how machine learning and pattern recognition techniques will improve the woeful state of computer security.

But there is a downside.

“The thing people don’t get is that cybercrime is becoming automated and it is scaling exponentially,” said Marc Goodman, a law enforcement agency adviser and the author of Future Crimes.

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Guaranteed Basic Income has become a serious topic of discussion in think tanks and Silicon Valley boardrooms, among some conservatives and libertarians as well as liberals, but, if instituted, it could wind up being more a pain than a panacea. If used as a Trojan horse by those looking to pull away social safety nets, it could be devastatingEven done with the best of intentions, it really wouldn’t be a better life than a good job with a chance for advancement. It could wind up an anodyne, part of a means to quiet the masses with bread and Kardashians.

Or maybe, possibly, it would free us to be creative beyond our wildest dreams in a post-scarcity society, building spaceships in our garages with cheap 3D printers. But I would have to bet the under on that one.

In a Vice “Motherboard” Q&A conducted by Alex Pasternack, Douglas Rushkoff speaks to his fears about GBI as a mere palliative. An excerpt: 

The thing that surprised me—the thing I’m working through now—is this whole idea of guaranteed minimum income. I make a pretty strong case for it in the book: In a society with abundant resources, people deserve food, housing, and medical care. We have gotten to a place where people need jobs not because we need all that work done, but because we need an excuse to let them have the food and housing which is already in abundance. That’s ass-backward. So just let them have it.

But I spent some time at Uber, and I heard my guaranteed minimum income argument come back to me but from their lips, and it sounded different. They were telling me how they understood that Uber drivers don’t get paid a living wage—but that once the government instituted a guaranteed minimum income, then it wouldn’t matter that the drivers don’t get paid enough to live! Or that their jobs were replaced by machines. At least they’d have enough money to hire Uber cars when they need to get somewhere!

So guaranteed minimum income doesn’t really empower anybody. It just creates more cash for people to spend as consumers. It doesn’t give the workers any more ownership of the “means of production” than they had before.

And I’m still working on this problem, since I believe that food, housing, and medical care are basic human rights for which you shouldn’t need a job, but I don’t like how guaranteed minimum income becomes an excuse for more exploitation of those at the bottom, and a new two-tiered society.•

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In a smart Five Books interviewEllen Wayland-Smith, author of Oneida, discusses a group of titles on the topic of Utopia. She surmises that attempts at such communities aren’t prevalent like they were in the 1840s or even the 1960s because most of us realize they don’t normally end well, whether we’re talking about the bitter financial and organizational failures of Fruitlands and Brook Farm or the utter madness of Jonestown. That’s true on a micro-community level, though I would argue that there have never been more people dreaming of large-scale Utopias–and corresponding dystopias–then there are right now. The visions have just grown significantly in scope.

In macro visions, Silicon Valley technologists speak today of an approaching post-scarcity society, an automated, quantified, work-free world in which all basic needs are met and drudgery has disappeared into a string of zeros and ones. These thoughts were once the talking points of those on the fringe, say, a teenage guru who believed he could levitate the Houston Astrodome, but now they (and Mars settlements, a-mortality and the computerization of every object) are on the tongues of the most important business people of our day, billionaires who hope to shape the Earth and beyond into a Shangri-La. 

Perhaps much good will come from these goals, and maybe a few disasters will be enabled as well. 

One exchange from the Five Books Q&A:


Speaking of the Second Coming, the last book on your list is Paradise Now, by Chris Jennings.

Ellen Wayland-Smith:

It’s called Paradise Now: The Story of American Utopianism. He goes through five utopian experiments in nineteenth century America. It’s a beautifully written book and interesting as well because he takes the odd era of 1840s America and shows how it gave rise to five very different experiments in alternative living. He does a sensitive job of exploring their differences and similarities but he also examines how crazy they seem today. Some of the ideas seem mystical and fabulous; certainly Noyes had some spectacularly strange ideas about gaining immortality through sexual intercourse. The fact that so many of these strange communities sprung up seems unbelievable to the twenty-first century reader. Chris Jennings points out that we seem to have lost something, there seems to be a diminishment of expectations, a loss of energy.


In the wake of the American Revolution over a hundred experimental communities were formed in the United States. Do societies become less experimental as they age into their institutions? Is the West losing the audacity necessary for experimentation?

Ellen Wayland-Smith:

That is an interesting question. The 1840s were an incredibly weird time. It was a crossroads. It was the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Class identification and geographical identification suddenly became uncertain, that was upsetting. There were also an explosion of religious sects at this time, with the disestablishment of state and church. I think it was a time when people felt very vulnerable. All these changes and uncertainties crystallized attempts to live otherwise.


Jennings writes that a present day “deficit of imagination” accounts for the fact that there are no utopias at present. Do you see a strong foundation for that analysis?

Ellen Wayland-Smith:

There does seem to be a lack of interest in what is transcendent, which keeps people from finding more meaningful ways of constructing their lives. But what accounts for the absence of utopian schemes at present is probably less a ‘deficit of imagination’ than a cynicism about whether these things can work. As I began by saying, utopian projects usually end disastrously.•

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  • America is not a “nation founded by geniuses, so it can be run by idiots,” as the Foxworthy faction of the GOP would have you believe. Our Forefathers’ greatest gift may have been to realize they were deeply flawed, that the Constitution was no Holy Grail, and that it would need to be amended, to be a living, breathing thing. We’re only as good at any given point as our interpretation of what America means. It’s up to us.
  • While longstanding traditions give our system a resilience new democracies don’t enjoy, our foundation, strong though it may be, can collapse. Most Americans are raised believing the checks and balances of our federal government will keep our system from imploding, but the strength of those levers are dependent on a number of other factors. For one, the Fourth Estate, journalism, needs to be healthy to serve as a watchdog. Due to technological disruption and changing customs, that industry isn’t faring well right now. This problem informs another: We must be an educated populace that holds democracy dear and wants it for all citizens. Also: The person holding the office of the President needs to be a sane, reasonable figure not given to autocracy, because the occupant of the Oval Office has copious opportunities to abuse power. If the President does attempt to shred the Constitution, the Congress and the Senate must act boldly to remove that person. That’s our last line of defense short of revolution.

In an excellent Politico article “Yes, American Democracy Could Break Down,” Yascha Mounk lays out exactly how things could fall apart, if not in the time of Trump, then at some point. An excerpt:

If you game it out, there are at least three likely scenarios that lead to a crisis. The first case would be Trump ordering the federal bureaucracy to do something blatantly unconstitutional—like, say, closing down mosques or prosecuting political opponents. It is likely that many senior bureaucrats would refuse to comply with such an order, either resigning in protest or simply disobeying the relevant instructions. In a political world in which leading politicians and most voters have a deep commitment to democratic norms, this is an effective form of resistance: The press would be likely to cover the story prominently. Public opinion would rally against an administration that insists on issuing illegal instructions. The President would back down. According to Constitutional scholars like Jack Goldsmith, a Harvard Law School professor who has written extensively about limits of executive power, this is exactly the kind of mechanism by which, despite its vastly expanded powers, the executive has effectively been constrained since 9/11.

But all of this assumes that we can still count on a shared commitment to democratic norms, and have a President who is sensitive to widespread outrage. So what would happen if a President Trump decided that he would rather persist with an unpopular course of action than risk looking weak? Or if public opinion didn’t swing against him in the first place? (Since many recent polls show broad support for discriminatory policies against Muslims, this is hardly an unimaginable scenario.)

In essence, there would then be little to stop the President from a simple power move: firing all bureaucrats who disobey his orders, and replacing them with loyalists. There is, in fact, a clear precedent for this in American history. In the so-called Saturday Night Massacre, Nixon instructed Attorney General Elliot Richardson to fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox, who had been appointed by Congress to look into his illegal activities during the Watergate scandal. When Richardson resigned his post in protest at the President’s attempt to interfere in judicial proceedings in such a blatant manner, Nixon instructed Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus to do his bidding. When he, too, resigned in protest, Nixon turned to Solicitor General Robert Bork—who duly complied. By the end of the night, Cox was gone.

If a President Trump took a leaf out of Nixon’s playbook and repeated the Saturday Night Massacre at an even bigger scale—including rank-and-file bureaucrats as well as political employees in his purge—it would undoubtedly sow chaos and deplete federal agencies of much-needed expertise. But finding a team of hacks to follow his orders, however haphazardly, would not prove difficult. If he wanted to close down mosques, or have his cronies prosecute political opponents, he probably could.•

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10 search-engine keyphrases bringing traffic to Afflictor this week:

  1. scott kelly astronaut psychological effects
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Those week, President Obama told Donald Trump to stop whining.

This week, President Obama told Donald Trump to stop whining about the election.

Such a nasty woman!

Such a nasty woman!

Who, me?

Who, me?


  • Steve Schmidt talks the aftermath of Donald Trump, the Worst American.™
  • Texas, as we’ve long known it, may not be America’s future or even its own.
  • Yuval Harari sees utter fecklessness to governments in a high-tech age.
  • Pedro Domingos discusses ultimate learning machines, robot babies, etc.



Since Bob Dylan was the surprise winner of this year’s Nobel Prize, those aghast at the announcement (mostly writers without Nobel Prizes) have taken comfort in Kevin P. Simonson’s 1991 Hustler interview with Kurt Vonnegut, in which the author labeled the songwriter the “worst poet alive.” This insult from the guy who turned out Slapstick!

In addition to being wrong about Dylan, Vonnegut’s hatred for the magazine’s infamous owner, Larry Flynt, also seems off-base. It’s not that the publisher was or is a charmer (he’s not), but his “literary output” proved much more influential than Vonnegut’s, with pornography today available on every phone in every pocket. He was right about human nature, whether we like it or not.

If you think that’s good or not depends on what you prefer: a repressed though less outwardly ugly society where things are hidden, or one in which there’s way too much information and everything may be revealed. The latter can be discombobulating, but I think the former is more dangerous.

Click on the exchange below to read a bigger version.


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As I’ve mentioned before, this Baba Booey of an election makes me wonder if we’re looking at the beginning of the end of the two-party political system in America. Could a centrist coalition be possible if Democratic and Republican bases drift further from the middle? Will independents be emboldened not by Donald Trump’s Thiel-approved Lampanelli-Mussolini mashup but by the lack of concern he’s shown traditional ideological lines? It really doesn’t make much sense that a culture so decentralized and splintered and long tail in pretty much every other way would remain traditional in this one, even if entrenched machinery demands it remain that way. 

Douglas Coupland has similar thoughts in a new Financial Times column, which also opines on “logarithmic technologies” impacting politics and the future of online voting. An excerpt:

I look at the current US electoral situation: 330 million people, and Donald and Hillary are what the system has spat forth. What ought to have been a four-party election (Democrats/Republicans/Sanderians/Trumpfs) instead became a two-party slate so ghastly that the metaphor most commonly used to describe the situation is that of a burning dumpster.

A country’s citizenry is toasting marshmallows over burning garbage trying to pretend everything is OK, and it’s not OK.

OK, that last sentence sounded a bit drastic … if nothing else, everybody agrees that the current US election is a hyperbole leaf-blower — and most everyone agrees that something is going random within American democracy. Both parties have somehow come to equate a possible electoral win by their opponents not as a democratically elected majority win but, rather, as mob rule. Each side believes the other is unfit to govern, period — and so it’s not just a matter of winning an election: the other party needs to be smothered and buried. As a bonus, this election has highlighted a specific perversity of human nature — the fact that believing in something that one knows is illogical or untrue somehow makes it much easier to believe.

Actually, let’s take a chill pill and think this through. Maybe there’s no need to be so cosmic about what can seem like the American two-party system’s mutual suicide pact. I wonder if, instead, what we’re witnessing is merely the painful birth of a three- or four-party US political system — something most mature democracies already have, and something the US ought to have seriously adopted decades ago were it not for the country’s battered-wife relationship with its dual-party system that dates back to the late 18th century.

Technically, all it would take for America to enter the multiparty system is to click its heels together three times and say, “Let’s have more political parties”, and much of today’s schizocracy would vanish. People would be able to better choose candidates they can actually believe in and, as we see globally, coalition building would ensure more adult-like behaviour and a willingness for give and take over issues which, at the moment, allow only unyieldingly polarised righteousness and stasis.•


From the November 25, 1936 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:





Video as a new way to pay for journalism seems a bubble to me, though I have to admit print ads were a bubble that paid for news for about 150 years. Of course, in a far more quantified age, if a system of collecting money for getting people to watch a few seconds of an ad goes bust, it probably will happen sooner than in fifteen decades.

But even if video doesn’t become the coin of the realm, it’s the primary media of the moment and immediate future. The lazier among us always skimmed articles, but now you’re not really required to do even that to follow current events. We’ve more recently used technologies to skip past ads during the game, but now we can disregard most of the game as well.

We’ve shrunk time down to just the interesting bits, the moments of impact, which are neatly packaged for us via video. Or we just drink from the stream of live video for a few minutes to get a “taste.” That’s not to say the horrors of Aleppo or the glories of the gridiron are only thrown at us minus context–prerecorded pieces can contextualize–but the more you boil something down, the more that evaporates into the air, unseen.

Despite Youtube, it’s interesting that the things people usually watch from start to finish now are fiction, the endless stock of TV or near-TV content. Fantasies can still be fully embraced, while reality has been collapsed into the palms of our hands.

Excerpts follow from: 1) Jacob Weisberg’s NYRB piece about the scramble for attention in the time of Google and Facebook, and 2) Jarrett Bell’s USA Today article about the NFL’s fumbling ratings.

From Weisberg:

Earlier this year, Facebook announced a major new initiative called Facebook Live, which was intended to encourage the consumption of minimally produced, real-time video on its site. The videos would come from news organizations such as The New York Times, as well as from celebrities and Facebook users. Interpreted by some as an effort to challenge Snapchat, the app popular with teenagers in which content quickly vanishes, Live reflects the trend toward video’s becoming the dominant consumer and commercial activity on the Web. Following the announcement, one executive at the company predicted that in five years the Facebook News Feed wouldn’t include any written articles at all, because video “helps us to digest more of the information” and is “the best way to tell stories.”

Facebook’s News Feed is the largest source of traffic for news and media sites, representing 43 percent of their referrals, according to the web analytics firm So when Facebook indicates that it favors a new form of content, publishers start making a lot of it. In this case, news organizations including the TimesBuzzFeed, NPR, and Al Jazeera began streaming live videos, which were funded in part by $50 million in payments from Facebook itself. These subsidies were thought necessary because live video carries no advertising, and thus produces no revenue for Facebook or its partners.

Why, if it generates no revenue, is Facebook pushing video streaming so insistently? For the same reason that it does almost everything: in hopes of capturing more user attention. According to the company’s research, live videos—which feel more spontaneous and authentic—are viewed an average of three times longer than prerecorded videos.•

From Bell:

HOUSTON — It’s an election year, silly.

That wasn’t the entire company line, but the impact of the dramatic presidential election cycle was certainly a prevailing sentiment as NFL owners gathered Tuesday for their quarterly meeting and assessed the league’s unusual and precipitous dip in TV ratings.

Assuming the results aren’t, well, rigged, NFL games — the undisputed king of U.S. sports viewing — were down 11% for the first six weeks of the season when compared to a similar point last year.

Blame it on Hillary vs. Donald? Or a sign of deeper problems for the NFL?

“It’s a very muddied water right now because you’ve got obviously the debates going on and you have the Donald Trump show,” Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank told USA TODAY Sports. “That’s a lot of commotion right now. It’s pretty hard to figure out right now what’s real and what’s not.”

The first debate, which ran opposite of a Falcons-New Orleans Saints Monday Night Football matchup in late September, drew a record 84 million viewers. The second debate, coinciding with a New York Giants-Green Bay Packers Sunday night prime-time clash, had 69 million viewers.

“Obviously, the debates have had a big impact,” Houston Texans owner Robert McNair told USA TODAY Sports.

But the debates represent just the biggest of several suspected factors. Tom Brady served four games in Deflategate jail. Peyton Manning retired. The younger generation is increasingly watching games or clips streamed to mobile devices.•

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Last night’s debate was likely the final ugly stand of the campaign for Donald Trump, the worst American™, the last time he could hector from a national pulpit non-white people and the Constitution itself, with eyes narrowed, fingers pointed, scowl fixed. He was revealed once more in all his damage, bleeding from his wherever, a lucky man who’s been handed everything but feels as if he’s being robbed yet again of what will finally quiet the fury within. But even if Trump, a Berlusconi who dreams of being a Mussolini, is now to be hoisted on Election Day by his feet from a virtual meat hook, he’s already done serious harm to the country.

I don’t mean his coarsening of the dialogue and mood or the undermining of our democracy’s legitimacy, though, of course, those things have weight. As I’ve written before, the real cost of the hideous hotelier is that he’s distracted us at a crucial juncture from vital issues at hand that need addressing to secure America’s future. Vladimir Putin couldn’t have done it better himself, though let’s give him some credit.

In a smart, impassioned Vice “Motherboard” essay, Derek Mead speaks to this same issue. An excerpt:

Climate change is especially important in this regard, as it will exacerbate most of the other ills of our current world, including resource-based conflict, pandemics, extreme weather, and food insecurity. For example, Florida is set to be ravaged by rising seas, including the properties of Donald Trump, who has called climate change a hoax. But rising seas are just one final problem; in the interim, we can expect warming weather to negatively influence everything from hurricanes to the spread of disease, as is potentially the case with Zika (which also didn’t make an appearance in the debates, despite an ongoing funding crisis).

For all the pseudo-talk of the economy in the debates, climate change is already costing us billions of dollars a year, and it is only going to get worse, as even the Pentagon is preparing for.

And despite this endless stream of bad news and heel-dragging from our elected officials, we’re already seeing positive impacts from investment in clean energy and divestment from climate-polluting industries. There’s no better time to push harder on mitigating the worst effects of climate change, which threatens all aspects of our livelihoods. Ignoring the climate for favor of arguing over who’s a stronger leader is simply irresponsible.

Climate may be the largest threat for humanity as a whole, but here in the US, the most immediately pressing one is inequality. Inequality is a problem across all demographic breakdowns—racial, economic, geographic, and so on—and for yet another election, the answer has been summed up with varying shades of the word “jobs.” It’s too late to reverse the tide of globalism, unless we want to turn ourselves into some sort of hermit kingdom, but as the leader of the tech economy, the United States is still in a strong position to shape the world’s economy to our advantage.

This is not a simple truth: As shuffling alliances and developing nations reshape the world order, and as the massive disparity in income and capital in the US mixes with a future economy defined less by ownership and more by timesharing everything, the non-barons among us have a difficult road ahead.•


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Pedro Domingos’ book The Master Algorithm takes on many issues regarding machine learning, but as the title makes implicit, it wonders chiefly about the possibility of a unified theory enabling an ultimate learning machine, which, the author recently told Russ Roberts of EconTalk, could perhaps figure out as much as 80% of any problem posed. Can’t say I’m expecting its development in my lifetime.

In one section of the interview, there’s a technical and philosophical exchange between host and guest about creating infantile robots that can grow and learn experientially as human babies do–gradually, with small steps becoming giant leaps. Two points about this section:

  • I believe Domingos is right to say that philosophers who believe “standard models of biology, chemistry, and physics cannot explain human consciousness” are getting ahead of themselves. No one should be shocked if the keys to consciousness are located via knowledge developed within current frameworks. I think that’s actually the likely outcome. We’re not at some sort of “end of science” moment.
  • Machines could theoretically someday possess the type of complicated emotions humans have, or maybe they won’t. It may not matter in some practical matters. After all, a plane can fly without being a bird. Roberts’ consternation about a sort of robot consciousness sans emotions seems like a visceral and romantic concern on his part, but such a scenario could have profound implications. Not to say that emotions are a fail-safe from destruction–sometimes they get the best of us–but it does seem they’re essential in the long-term to truly complex growth, though it’s impossible (for now) to be sure.

The exchange:

Russ Roberts:

So, I’m going to read a somewhat lengthy paragraph that charmed me, from the book. And then I want to ask you a philosophical question about it. So here’s the passage:

If you’re a parent, the entire mystery of learning unfolds before your eyes in the first three years of your child’s life. A newborn baby can’t talk, walk, recognize objects, or even understand that an object continues to exist when the baby isn’t looking at it. But month after month, in steps large and small, by trial and error, great conceptual leaps, the child figures out how the world works, how people behave, how to communicate. By a child’s third birthday all this learning has coalesced into a stable self, a stream of consciousness that will continue throughout life. Older children and adults can time-travel–aka remember things past, but only so far back. If we could revisit ourselves as infants and toddlers and see the world again through those newborn eyes, much of what puzzles us about learning–even about existence itself–would suddenly seem obvious. But as it is, the greatest mystery in the universe is not how it begins or ends, or what infinitesimal threads it’s woven from. It’s what goes on in the small child’s mind–how a pound of gray jelly can grow into the seat of consciousness. 

So, I thought that was very beautiful. And then you imagined something called Robby the Robot, that would somehow simulate the experience and learn from, in the same way a child learns. So, talk about how Robby the Robot might work; and then I’ll ask my philosophical question.

Pedro Domingos:

Yes. So, there are several approaches to solving the problem of [?]. So, how can we create robots and computers that are as intelligent as people? And, you know, one of them, for example, is to mimic evolution. Another one is to just build a big knowledge base. But in some ways the most intriguing one is this idea of building a robot baby. Right? The existence proof of intelligence that we have as human beings–in fact, if we didn’t have that we wouldn’t even be trying for this. So, the idea of–so the path, one possible path to (AI) artificial intelligence, and the only one that we know is guaranteed to work, right? Is to actually have a real being in the real world learning from experience in the same way that a baby does. And so the ideal is the robot baby is–let’s just create something that has a brain–but it doesn’t have to be at the level of neurons, it’s just at the level of capabilities–that has the same capabilities that the brain, that the mind, if you will, that a newborn baby has. And if it does have those capabilities and then we give it the same experience that a newborn baby has, then two or three years later we will have solved the problem. So, that’s the promise of this approach.

Russ Roberts:

So, the thought, the philosophical thought that I had as I was down in the basement the other day with my wife and we were sorting through boxes of stuff that we don’t look at except once a year when we go down in the basement and decide what to throw out and what to keep. And one of the boxes that we keep, even though we never examine it, except when we open, go down to the basement once a year to go down through the boxes, is: It’s a box of stuffed animals that our children had when they were babies. And we just–we don’t want to throw it out. I don’t know if our kids will ever want to use them with their children–if they have children; our kids, we don’t have any grandchildren but I think we imagine the possibility that they would be used again. But I think something else is going on there. And if our children were in the basement with us, going through that, and they saw the animal or the stuffed item that they had when they were, say, 2 and a half or 3 years old, that was incredibly precious to them–and of course has no value to them whatsoever to them right now–they would have, just as we have, as parents, they would have an incredible stab of emotional reaction. A nostalgia. A feeling that I can’t imagine Robby the Robot would ever have. Am I wrong?

Pedro Domingos:

I don’t know. So, this is a good question. There are actually several good questions here. One is: Would Robby the Robot need to have emotions in order to learn. I actually think the answer is Yes. And: will it have those emotions? I think at a functional level we already know how to put the equivalent of emotions into a robot, because emotions are what guides us. Right? We were talking before about goals, right? Emotions are the way evolution in some sense programmed you to do the right things and not the wrong ones, right? The reason we have fear and pleasure and pain and happiness and all of these things is so that we can choose the right things to do. And we know how to do that in a robot. The technical term for that is the objective function–

Russ Roberts:


Pedro Domingos:

Or the utility function. Now, whether at the end of the day–

Russ Roberts:

But it’s not the same. It doesn’t seem the same. Maybe it would be. I don’t know. That’s a tough question.

Pedro Domingos:

Exactly. So, functionally, in terms of the input-output behavior, I think this could be indistinguishable from the robot having emotions. Whether the robot is really having emotions is probably something that we will never know for sure. But again, we don’t know if animals or if even other people have the same emotions that we do. We just give them credit for them because they are similar to us. And I think in practice what will happen, in fact, this is already happening, with all of these chatbots, for example, is that: If these robots and computers behave like they have emotions, we will treat them as if they have emotions and assume that they do. And often we assume that they have a lot more emotions than they do because we project our humanity into them. So, I think at a practical level [?] it won’t make that much difference. There remains this very fascinating philosophical question, which is: What is really going on in their minds? Or in our minds, for that matter. I’m not sure that we will ever really have an answer to that.

Russ Roberts:

I’ve raised the question recently on the program about whether consciousness is something which is amenable to scientific understanding. Certain philosophers, David Chalmers, Thomas Nagle claim–and they are both atheists–but they claim that models of evolution and the standard models of biology, chemistry, and physics cannot explain human consciousness. Have you read that work? Have you thought about it at all?

Pedro Domingos:

Yeah. And I think that–I disagree with them at the following level. I think if you fast forward to 50 years from now, we will probably have a very good and very satisfying model of consciousness. It will probably be using different concepts than the ones that people have from the sciences right now. The problem is that we haven’t found the right concepts to pin down consciousness yet. But I think there will come a point at which we do, in the sense that all the psychological and neural correlates of consciousness will be explained by this model. And again, for practical purposes, maybe even for philosophical purposes that will be good. Now, there is, I think, what is often called the hard question of consciousness. Which is: At the end of the day, because consciousness is a subjective experience, you cannot have an objective test of it. So in some sense once you get down to that hard core, consciousness is beyond the scope of science. Unless somebody comes up with something that I don’t quite imagine yet, I think again what will probably happen is that we will get to a point, probably not in the near future–it will be decades from now–where we understand consciousness well enough that we are satisfied with our understanding and we don’t ask ourselves these questions about it any more. And I can find analogies in the history of science where similar things that used to seem completely mysterious–like, life itself used to be completely mysterious. And today it’s not that mysterious any more. There’s DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid) and there’s proteins and there’s what’s called the central dogma of biology. At the end of the day, the mystery of life is still there. It’s just really not that prominent on our minds any more because we feel like we understand, you know, the essence of how life works. And I think chances are the same thing will happen with consciousness.•

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Before the village became global, husband-and-wife explorers Carveth and Zetta Wells used new media and old-fashioned derring-do to make the world a little smaller.

The microphone- and camera-ready couple were lecturers and media personalities in between jaunts to exotic locales, with Zetta even hosting a weekly NBC show in 1946-47, in which she introduced 16mm home movies of their travels. It was an intoxicating time of visiting boat builders living inside volcanoes, watching fish climb trees and chaperoning Raffles the Mynah bird to an appearance on You Bet Your Life.

Below are two Brooklyn Daily Eagle articles about the peripatetic pair and the aforementioned 1957 video of Groucho Marx getting the business from a boid.

From July 18, 1929.



From August 12, 1945,


At the 6:50 mark.

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Stephen Hawking and Ted Kaczynski agree: Machine intelligence may be the death of us. Of course, the Unabomber could himself kill you if only he had your snail-mail address.

Found in the Afflictor inbox an offer from a PR person for a free copy of Anti-Tech Revolution: Why and How, Kaczynski’s new book. The release describes the author as a “social theorist and ecological anarchist,” conveniently leaving a few gaps on the old résumé: serial killer, maimer, domestic terrorist, etc.

A few minutes later, I read Hawking’s inaugural speech at the new Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence at Cambridge, an institution created to deal sanely and non-violently with the potential problem of humanity being extincted by its own cleverness.

An excerpt from each follows.

From Kaczynski:

People would bitterly resent any system to which they belonged if they believed that when they grew old, or if they became disabled, they would be thrown on the trash-heap.

But when all people have become useless, self-prop systems will find no advantage in taking care of anyone. The techies themselves insist that machines will soon surpass humans in intelligence.119 When that happens, people will be superfluous and natural selection will favor systems that eliminate them—if not abruptly, then in a series of stages so that the risk of rebellion will be minimized.

Even though the technological world-system still needs large numbers of people for the present, there are now more superfluous humans than there have been in the past because technology has replaced people in many jobs and is making inroads even into occupations formerly thought to require human intelligence.120 Consequently, under the pressure of economic competition, the world’s dominant self-prop systems are already allowing a certain degree of callousness to creep into their treatment of superfluous individuals. In the United States and Europe, pensions and other benefits for retired, disabled, unemployed, and other unproductive persons are being substantially reduced;121 at least in the U.S., poverty is increasing; and these facts may well indicate the general trend of the future, though there will doubtless be ups and downs.

It’s important to understand that in order to make people superfluous, machines will not have to surpass them in general intelligence but only in certain specialized kinds of intelligence. For example, the machines will not have to create or understand art, music, or literature, they will not need the ability to carry on an intelligent, non-technical conversation (the “Turing test”), they will not have to exercise tact or understand human nature, because these skills will have no application if humans are to be eliminated anyway. To make humans superfluous, the machines will only need to outperform them in making the technical decisions that have to be made for the purpose of promoting the short-term survival and propagation of the dominant self-prop systems. So, even without going as far as the techies themselves do in assuming intelligence on the part of future machines, we still have to conclude that humans will become obsolete.•

From Hawking:

It is a great pleasure to be here today to open this new Centre.  We spend a great deal of time studying history, which, let’s face it, is mostly the history of stupidity.  So it is a welcome change that people are studying instead the future of intelligence.

Intelligence is central to what it means to be human.  Everything that our civilisation has achieved, is a product of human intelligence, from learning to master fire, to learning to grow food, to understanding the cosmos. 

I believe there is no deep difference between what can be achieved by a biological brain and what can be achieved by a computer.  It therefore follows that computers can, in theory, emulate human intelligence — and exceed it.

Artificial intelligence research is now progressing rapidly.  Recent landmarks such as self-driving cars, or a computer winning at the game of Go, are signs of what is to come.  Enormous levels of investment are pouring into this technology.  The achievements we have seen so far will surely pale against what the coming decades will bring.

The potential benefits of creating intelligence are huge.  We cannot predict what we might achieve, when our own minds are amplified by AI.  Perhaps with the tools of this new technological revolution, we will be able to undo some of the damage done to the natural world by the last one — industrialisation.  And surely we will aim to finally eradicate disease and poverty.  Every aspect of our lives will be transformed.  In short, success in creating AI, could be the biggest event in the history of our civilisation.

But it could also be the last, unless we learn how to avoid the risks.  Alongside the benefits, AI will also bring dangers, like powerful autonomous weapons, or new ways for the few to oppress the many.   It will bring great disruption to our economy.  And in the future, AI could develop a will of its own — a will that is in conflict with ours.

In short, the rise of powerful AI will be either the best, or the worst thing, ever to happen to humanity.  We do not yet know which. 

That is why in 2014, I and a few others called for more research to be done in this area.  I am very glad that someone was listening to me! 

The research done by this centre is crucial to the future of our civilisation and of our species.  I wish you the best of luck!•

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If robots are introduced into cockpits as a means of coping with a shortage of human pilots and there’s a spike in accidents, that’s clearly unacceptable. If computers fully taking over plane controls enables a reduction in accidents, that would seem to be equally a slam-dunk decision. But not everyone agrees.

Some see the potential transition from human to automated pilot as a threat to us, a “skill fade” that will fundamentally alter who we are. I don’t subscribe to that line of thinking, as people have only flown crafts through the air for little over a century, a mere blink in the history of Homo sapiens. As we once mostly were farmers and now few can handle a hoe let alone a plow, we need to continually reinvent why we’re here and who we are. That’s even truer with aviation than agriculture since relatively few of us know how to fly. I don’t believe pilot-less planes a terrible blow to us.

But since domestic carriers in America crash so seldom now, it’s not easy to develop a better safety record. So, apart from saving a few pilot salaries and the trouble of training them, what would be gained by wholly automated flights? I suppose the bonus would lie in the disruption of Big Air, an explosion (hopefully not literally) of smaller crafts, maybe some much smaller, that are able to thin out long lines at the gate and present an alternative to the often-challenging financials of airline companies. 

Time will tell how commercial aviation develops, but I’d be stunned if we don’t see, at the minimum, automated cargo planes in our lifetimes.

From Joan Lowy of the Associated Press:

MANASSAS, Va. (AP) — Think of it as the airborne cousin to the self-driving car: a robot in the cockpit to help human pilots fly passengers and cargo — and eventually even replace them.

The government and industry are collaborating on a program that seeks to replace the second human pilot in two-person flight crews with a robot co-pilot that never tires, gets bored, feels stressed out or gets distracted.

The program is funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Pentagon’s arm for development of emerging technologies, and run by Aurora Flight Sciences, a private contractor. With both the military and airlines struggling with shortages of trained pilots, officials say they see an advantage to reducing the number of pilots required to fly large aircraft while at the same time increasing safety and efficiency by having a robot pick up the mundane tasks of flying. 

The idea is to have the robot free the human pilot, especially in emergencies and demanding situations, to think strategically.

“It’s really about a spectrum of increasing autonomy and how humans and robots work together so that each can be doing the thing that it’s best at,” said John Langford, Aurora’s chairman and CEO.

Langford even envisions a day when a single pilot on the ground will control multiple airliners in the skies, and people will go about their daily travels in self-flying planes.•

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When Time magazine published Tyler Cowen’s 2013 cover story “Why Texas Is Our Future,” which argued that the Lone Star State was America’s new bellwether, I disagreed with the premise, wondering if Texas, as we’ve long known it, was even the future of Texas.

The article notes the large-scale migration to the state by citizens from other parts of the country but assumes these newbies would gladly live within Texas’ regulations (or lack thereof) rather than altering them. In this vision, the bargain of low taxes and real estate prices would have outweighed concerns about environmental damage, the lack of the Medicaid expansion for the Affordable Care Act and the scary high childhood poverty rate. That’s a big assumption. The piece also failed to speak of the growing young Latino population which was going to leave its mark as it aged into voting eligibility. Rather than doubling down on business as usual, the traditionally red state was actually likely to take on a much more purplish hue.

The first signs of a change may be manifesting in the 2016 Presidential election, as Texas is shockingly too close to call. Now granted Trump is nothing like a normal candidate, but he and his border wall would have still risen to an easy victory in the state in years gone by.

From Nate Silver at Five Thirty Eight:

Another day, another traditionally Republican state that Donald Trump could shockingly manage to lose. Yesterday, I wrote about Utah, where Trump’s weakness with Mormon voters could throw the state to Hillary Clinton or to independent candidate Evan McMullin. Today, we turn to Texas, where two new polls show a tight race: A University of Houston poll has Trump up just 3 percentage points there, while SurveyMonkey puts Trump’s lead at 2 points.

Trump will probably win Texas. Earlier polls had shown a close-ish race there, but with a Trump lead in the high single digits. And as a hedge against the polls, our forecast still assigns a little bit of weight to our regression-based analysis, which is based on demographics and voting history. Thus, our model still has Trump ahead by 5 or 6 percentage points in Texas, and puts Clinton’s chances of an upset at 17 percent.

But to put that in perspective, Texas is closer than Pennsylvania right now (where Clinton leads by 7 to 8 points). And Clinton is more likely to win Texas than Trump is to win the election, at least according to the polls-only model, which puts Trump’s overall chances at 12 percent.

As in Utah, demographics play a role in Trump’s struggles in Texas. The state’s white population is well-educated, and includes some workers who have moved from other parts of the country to take advantage of the state’s burgeoning economy. (College-educated whites have turned away from Trump.) Texas also used to have its share of Republican-leaning Latinos — George W. Bush won almost half of the Latino vote there in 2004 — another group that Trump has turned off. Meanwhile, only 43 percent of Texas’ population consists of non-Hispanic whites, down from 52 percent in 2000. However, because 11 percent of Texas’ population consists of non-citizens — many of them recent immigrants from Mexico — its electorate is whiter than its population overall.•

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Elon Musk’s dream of colonizing Mars in a handful of years is bold but probably misbegotten. He means well in wanting to safeguard the survival of the human species, but things may not end well. There’s no reason for humans to be out there just yet. It might work out best if Musk’s large-scale plans crater and his still-sizable contributions (e.g., reusable rockets) remain. We can explore space for the foreseeable future without the undue burdens of cost and loss of life if we utilize robots for reconnaissance and 3D printers to lay foundation.

In “The Low-Tech Way to Colonize Mars,” an Atlantic piece by Sarah Zhang, the writer examines a saner alternative to Musk’s vision, a slow build in space via bootstrapping with relatively simple tools. An excerpt:

NASA is all aboard the 3D-printing train. Last year, it unveiled winners of its first 3D-printed Mars habitat design challenge, and the architectural renders of the winning entries were all sleek and futuristic, as renders of unbuilt buildings always are (see above). In reality, the current state of the art for Martian 3D-printing looks more like the clay logs [planetary scientist Philip] Metzger has been documenting on Twitter.

If the technology looks low-tech, it’s deliberate. “We’re rethinking how to do space technology by taking cues from less developed parts of world,” says Metzger. The logic goes like this: If a valve breaks in a complex machine on Mars, an astronaut can’t go online to order a replacement with next day delivery. (It’s more like nine months, assuming Mars and Earth are in their most favorable alignment.) So the idea is to start simple and slowly build up technological capabilities: clay to metal to plastic to electronic equipment. Eventually, Mars will have the refineries and factories to make complicated machines itself. This is “bootstrapping,” and it’s Metzger’s vision for space exploration.•

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Since the start of the Tea Party paranoia about the U.S. government’s supposed “hostile takeover” of the citizenry and the free markets, I’ve argued that despite some real assaults on individual rights (e.g., Patriotic Act-enabled surveillance), control by any central body in even a nominal democracy is on the wane. Big Brother isn’t as much a problem as is just keeping the family together at all.

That being said, I think Yuval Noah Harari (whose latest book, Homo Deus, will hopefully arrive in my mailbox this week) overplays his hand a bit on this point in what’s otherwise a fun and provocative New Yorker essay about our technologically advanced society inexplicably enabling Trump’s “nihilistic burlesque.” The historian offers a macro analysis of what ails disgruntled America (and much of the rest of the world), assigning the disquiet to the fecklessness of our elected governments.

In America, we certainly have structural problems in ensuring the people are truly represented. The chief flaw, more than even Citizens United, is probably gerrymandering, which is why President Obama, in his first post-White House act, is joining forces with former Attorney General Eric Holder to legally challenge districting that runs afoul of common sense and, perhaps, the law. It’s a serious bug but not a fatal error.

Policy can be a brutally slow game, not nearly as fleet as a tweet, but it’s also not so fleeting. Today’s ballooning high school graduation rates required a change in priorities six years ago, The substantial gains in income for middle class and impoverished households in 2015 was the cumulative effect of the policies of a President determined to reverse course on Reaganomics, one who aimed to be a transformative instead of transitional leader. Going forward, automation is poised to threaten Labor in a large-scale manner, but for now the pendulum has swung in the direction of working people.

Harari is certainly correct in saying that technological tools have quickly outpaced our capacity to legislate them or to process them in an ethical fashion, and that could make war among nations or within them more likely. Off-the-shelf drones can now deliver explosions as well as pizzas. Tools like those will only get better (and worse).

Nothing speaks to the disruption of traditional governance as we’ve known it like Silicon Valley billionaires engaging in Space Race 2.0 against entire nations. Even if those dreams are still beyond reach for individuals with lots of stock options, they aren’t so far that they can be dismissed.

Individuals and corporations, however, work toward satisfying their own priorities, not always the greater good. Government, run reasonably well, should always be striving to accomplish the latter. As long as it does so to a fair degree, central authority will always have a role in our lives, no matter how fractured they become. 

When some say philosophy is dead, seemingly giddy about it, I’m perplexed. We need it now more than ever. The same goes for government. It’s possible our great expectations may cause us to ignore real progress, but that will be a failing of “us,” not “them.”

From Harari:

Disruptive technologies pose a particularly acute threat to the power of national governments and ordinary citizens. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, progress in the form of the Industrial Revolution produced concomitant horrors, from the Dickensian coal pits to Congo’s rubber plantations and China’s disastrous Great Leap Forward. It took tremendous effort for politicians and citizens to put the train of progress on more benign tracks. Yet while the rhythm of politics has not changed much since the days of steam, technology has switched from first gear to fourth. Technological revolutions now vastly outpace political processes.

The Internet suggests how this happens. The Web is now crucial to our lives, economy, and security, yet the early, critical choices about its design and basic features weren’t made through a democratic political process—did you ever vote about the shape of cyberspace? Decisions made by Web designers years ago mean that today the Internet is a free and lawless zone that erodes state sovereignty, ignores borders, revolutionizes the job market, smashes privacy, and poses a formidable global-security risk. Governments and civic organizations conduct intense debates about restructuring the Internet, but the governmental tortoise cannot keep up with the technological hare.

In the coming decades, we will likely see more Internet-like revolutions, in which technology steals up silently on politics. Artificial intelligence and biotechnology could overhaul not just societies and economies but our very bodies and minds. Yet these topics are hardly a blip in the current Presidential race. (In the first Clinton-Trump debate, the main reference to disruptive technology concerned Clinton’s e-mail debacle, and despite all the talk about job losses, neither candidate addressed the potential impact of automation.)

Ordinary voters may not understand artificial intelligence but they can sense that the democratic mechanism no longer empowers them.•



Donald Trump, the Worst American, is the GOP nominee, so we all probably owe an apology to Sarah Palin for disqualifying her from sitting a heartbeat from the Oval Office because she was ill-prepared, ignorant, fact-challenged, mean-spirited and generally unfit. Why did we focus on such mundane matters?

Steve Schmidt, who chose Sarah Palin for the GOP VP slot in 2008 and then chose to not vote for her, is interviewed by Andrew Prokop of Vox about the sewer-water campaign of the hideous hotelier and what is likely to occur in the aftermath of a Trump flameout on Election Day. The political adviser sees the finger-pointing, paranoia and bigotry perhaps birthing an alt-right cable channel and a UKIP-ish factional movement. Whatever happens, it will likely involve further fracturing America.

The opening exchange:

Andrew Prokop:

Stepping back a bit from the swirl of allegations about Trump’s personal behavior in the news, what’s your big-picture view of the state of the Republican Party right now, and our politics in general?

Steve Schmidt:

One of John McCain’s famous quotes was quoting Chairman Mao: “It’s always darkest before it’s completely black.”

The Trump campaign is over — Hillary Clinton is going to be elected president. The question that remains here, the open question, is the degree of the collateral damage, right? The Republicans are going to lose the US Senate. The question is how many seats can they lose in the House. It is possible but not probable yet that they lose the House majority. So the question is, how far below 40 percent is Trump in the popular vote?
Then there’s a long-term implication for the civic life of the country, the vandalism being done, which will culminate for the first time in American history with his refusal to make an ordinary concession where he grants to the winner legitimacy by recognizing the legitimacy of the election. I think it’s very clear he’s going to go out saying it’s a rigged system.

I think what you’re gonna see is Steve Bannon monetizing 30 percent of the electorate into a UKIP-style movement and a billion-dollar media business.

And I think the Republican Party has an outstanding chance of fracturing. There will be the alt-right party; then there will be a center-right conservative party that has an opportunity to reach out, repair damage, and rebuild the brand over time. America, ideologically right now, is a centrist country — it used to be a center-right country — but it’s by no means a Bernie Sanders country. Not even close. The market will demand a center-right party.

The last implication for it behaviorally is it exposes at such a massive scale and at such magnitude the hypocrisy of the Tony Perkinses and the Jerry Falwell Jrs. and the Pat Robertsons. These people are literally the modern-day Pharisees, they are the money changers in the temple, and they will forever be destroyed from a credibility perspective.

There are millions of decent, faithful, committed evangelicals in this country who have every right to participate in the political process. But this country doesn’t ever need to hear a lecture from any one of these people [Perkins, Falwell, etc.] again on a values issue, or their denigration of good and decent gay people in this country.•

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From the September 19, 1934 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:




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