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  • Comparing the low-level insult comic Donald Trump to Don Rickles, as some have, is like saying an insane person who severed his tongue with a piece of broken glass is just like Harpo Marx.
  • I’m not a psychiatrist, so I can’t definitively say that Donald Trump is deeply mentally ill, but perhaps we can agree that he exhibits many of the behaviors of mentally ill people who’ve gone untreated, and if any of our friends or relatives acted like him, we would seek professional help for them.
  • Trump’s Simon Cowell-Mussolini mash-up may not strictly speaking play out as Fascism in the context of our laws and Constitution despite all his sound and the fury in that direction, but even without the support of his party, wouldn’t he as President be able to plunge us into an place as dark an any we’ve experienced since the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII?

Excerpts from two pieces follow: 1) David Remnick’s sharp analysis of the GOP nominee’s predictably disgusting response to the horrific Orlando massacre, and 2) T.A. Frank’s Vanity Fair “Hive” argument that the nightmarish realization of Trump winning the White House won’t result in full-on Fascism despite whatever damage will result.

From Remnick:

With every month, it has become clearer that Trump is a makeshift politician, whose rancid wit resides in his willingness to say whatever it takes to arouse the fears of a political base. He might have started his campaign with the idea of winning some votes and publicity, increasing his profile as a marketing whiz, and then dropping out. Good for business! But now that he has stunned the political world—and, likely, himself—he has shown little inclination (or, perhaps, capacity) to grow into his role, to modify his language, be it for the sake of the Republican establishment or of simple decency. He’ll have none of that. Whatever inflates his sense of self and prods the anxieties of the country—that’s what works for him.

It feels indecent on such a day to engage these comments of Trump’s at all. But their velocity, vapidity, and sheer ugliness reflect his character, his emptiness, and, most of all, the shape of the election campaign to come. Since Trump has ascended, it’s been clear that his demagogic instincts could be tested precisely by the sort of tragedy suffered in Orlando. And, when faced with the path of modesty and the path of dark opportunism, he has chosen the latter. That’s what he is about. It’s who he is.•

From Frank:

Luckily, when it comes to true dictatorship, Trump lacks many of the most ominous traits.

For all of his incendiary rhetoric, there’s limited evidence of any belief in racial superiority or hatred of other races. Suggesting that Mexican immigrants and rape go hand in hand may be heinous, but it is not the same thing as white supremacy, and Trump is less right-leaning on many matters of race than some traditional Republicans. Regarding affirmative action, a policy that many conservatives are working to eliminate, Trump has said, “I’m fine with it,” merely laying out that one day “there will be a time when you don’t need it.” As careless as Trump has been about distinguishing the vast majority of peaceful illegal immigrants from the small minority who commit crimes, and as sinister as a “deportation force” sounds, the candidate has mostly confined his demonizations to the powerful: politicians, high-ranking officials, the media, foreign governments.

The worst tyrants of the past century or two also presided over a lot of soldiers or paramilitary forces before they came to power. Benito Mussolini had hundreds of thousands of Black Shirts, and Hitler had hundreds of thousands of Brown Shirts. Vladimir Lenin, Mao Zedong, Pol Pot, Fidel Castro, and Robert Mugabe all headed large guerrilla forces. Many dictators came from the military, like Idi Amin, Muammar Qaddafi, and Juan Peron. Trump just went to military school.

Finally, and perhaps most important, Trump is entering politics too late to become a proper tyrant. The dictators of the past two centuries have had a commitment to political agitation from a young age: Saddam Hussein was a passionate Baathist in his 20s. Stalin was a revolutionary from the moment he was expelled from school. (Dictators who have come late to politics have cropped up in South America, with figures like Jorge Videla in Argentina and Augusto Pinochet in Chile, but they were senior military officials in countries with histories of military coups.) The quality that made these tyrants so brutal was not primarily thin-skinnedness or impulsivity but fanaticism. Trump is getting into politics late in life after a successful career doing other things. He’s volatile and impulsive, but he’s not fanatical.

In a best-case scenario, Trump would be less dangerous to civil liberties and democratic norms than someone like Marco Rubio, because his own party is willing to break ranks with him.•

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Robin Hanson has identified what he believes to be an alternative to the incremental growth of machine superintelligence through AI with the idea of brain emulations or ems, scanned copies of human brains that are downloaded into computers and then in some cases given robot bodies. You would choose the greatest minds and allow machines to improve their knowledge at a head-spinning clip, intelligence exploding at ahead-spinning clip. Armies of ems could take over all the work, the whole economy, industries could rise and fall in days, output would be increased at heretofore unimaginable speed. Humans wouldn’t need to labor anymore and post-scarcity will have arrived. We’ve moved immensely culturally from foragers to Digital Age denizens with no explosion of intelligence, so the changes to life on Earth with one would be seismic. Hanson believes it all could occur within a century.

I’m not a physicist or economist like Hanson, but I believe his timeframe is wildly aggressive. Let me accept his prediction wholly, however, to ask some questions. What if we don’t wisely choose our brains to emulate? As I posted yesterday, Russian scientists carved the late Vladimir Lenin’s brain into more than 30,000 pieces searching for the secret of his intellectual powers. If the technology was available then, they certainly would have chosen the Bolshevik leader to make millions of ems from. Lenin wouldn’t be my first choice to emulate, but he would be a far better choice than, say, Stalin, who would have been the chosen one for the next generation. Hitler’s brain would have been replicated many times over in the mass delusion of Nazi Germany. In North Korea today, the Dear Leader would be the brain to embody inside of robots. 

Even the best among us have terrible ideas we have yet to admit or realize. For example, the American Founding Fathers allowed for slavery and didn’t permit women to vote. Every age has its sins, from colonialism to wealth inequality, and its only with a wide variety of minds do we come to realize our wrongs, and often those who speak first and loudest about injustices (e.g. Abolitionists) are deemed “undesirables” who would never be selected for “mass production” of their minds. Wouldn’t choosing merely the “best and brightest” be a dicey form of eugenics to the nth degree?

Even further, if ems truly become possible at some point, wouldn’t they also be ripe for destabilization, especially in a future that’s become that technologically adept? Wouldn’t a terrorist organizations be able to create a battalion of like-minded beheaders? Isn’t it possible that a lone wolf who wanted to unloose mayhem could hatch a “start-up” in his garage? You can’t refuse to create all new tools because they can become weapons, but wouldn’t ems be different in a dangerous way on a whole other level?

Excerpts follow from two pieces about Hanson’s new book, The Age of Em: 1) Steven Poole’s Guardian review, and 2) A Q&A with the author by James Pethokoukis of the American Enterprise Institute.

Poole’s opening:

In the future, or so some people think, it will become possible to upload your consciousness into a computer. Software emulations of human brains – ems, for short – will then take over the economy and world. This sort of thing happens quite a lot in science fiction, but The Age of Em is a fanatically serious attempt, by an economist and scholar at Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute, to use economic and social science to forecast in fine detail how this world (if it is even possible) will actually work. The future it portrays is very strange and, in the end, quite horrific for everyone involved.

It is an eschatological vision worthy of Hieronymus Bosch. Trillions of ems live in tall, liquid-cooled skyscrapers in extremely hot cities. Most of them are “very able focused workaholics”, who “respect and trust each other more” than we do.

Some ems will have robotic bodies; others will just live in virtual reality all the time. (Ems who are office workers won’t need bodies.) Some ems will run a thousand times faster than human brains, so having a subjective experience of much-expanded time. (Their bodies will need to be very small: “At this scale, an industry-era city population of a million kilo-ems could fit in an ordinary bottle.”) Others might run very slowly, to save money. Ems will congregate in related “clans” and use “decision markets” to make important commercial and political choices. Ems will work nearly all the time but choose to remember an existence that is nearly all leisure. Some ems will be “open-source lovers”; all will be markedly more religious and also swear more often. The em economy will double every month, and competition will drive nearly all wages down to subsistence levels. Surveillance will be total. Fun, huh?•

From the American Enterprise Institute:


The book is not about us; it’s about the ems, about their life, their culture. You make a lot of speculations; you draw a lot of conclusion about what the life of these synthetic emulations are like. So how can you do that?

Robin Hanson:

I am taking our standard, accepted theories in a wide variety of areas and apply them to this key scenario: what happens if brain emulations get cheap?

Honestly, most people like the future as a place to set fantasy stories. In the past, we used to have far away places as our favorite place to set strange stories where strange things could happen but then we learned about all the far away places. So then we switched to the future, it was the place we could set strange stories. And because you could say, well no one can show my strange story is wrong about the future because no one can know about the future, so it’s become an axiom to people that the future must be unknowable, therefore we can set strange stories there. But, if we know about the world today and we use theories about the world today to understand the past, those same basic theories can also apply to the future, so my exercise is theory.

I am taking our standard, accepted theories in a wide variety of areas and apply them to this key scenario: what happens if brain emulations get cheap? And if we have reliable theory to help us understand the world around us and to help us understand the past, those same theories should be able to describe the future


Give a couple examples and how that gives you some insights into what this new world of synthetic emulations would be like for them.

Robin Hanson:

First of all, I’m just using supply and demand to describe how wages change. I use the same supply and demand theory of wages that we use to understand why wages are higher here than in Bangladesh or why wages were low a thousand years ago. That same theory can say why wages would be high in the future.

I also use simple physics: for examples these emulations can run at different speeds, I can use computer science to say if they run twice as fast they should cost twice as much, because they are very parallel programs. I can also use physics to say that if they have bodies to match the speeds of their minds, if their mind runs twice as fast, their body needs to be twice as short in order to feel natural to that mind. So very fast emulations, very small bodies. I can use our standard theory of cities and urban concentrations to think about whether ems concentrate in a few big cities or lots of smaller cities.

Today, our main limitation of having a lot of us in one big city is traffic congestion. The bigger the city the more time people spend in traffic, and that limits our cities. Emulations can interact with each other across a city using virtual reality, which is much cheaper so they face much less traffic congestion, so I use that to predict that they live in a small number of very big, dense cities.


And we’re not talking about an alien intelligence or a super intelligence, but a synthetic duplication of a regular human brain or human mind, therefore it would work in some sort of predictable manner.

Robin Hanson:

Exactly, so we know a lot of things about humans, when they work they need breaks and they need weekends and they need vacations, so we can say these emulations will work hard because it is a competitive world, but they still will take breaks, and they’ll take the evening off to sleep.

These are all things we know about human productivity; these emulations are still very humans psychologically.


I was reading a review of the book and someone said, you could have a whole factory of “Elon Musk” workers, all very smart, and those ems would go out after work to a bar or a club and they would see an em of Taylor Swift. So Elon Musk #1,000,400,000 or something could be listening to Taylor Swift # 2,000,100,000. So it’s a duplication of human society but with some rules changed. 

Robin Hanson:

Right, so it’s in the uncanny valley where it’s strange enough to be different but familiar enough to be strange. If it were completely alien, it would just but weird and incomprehensible, but it’s not.


Is this something you think the science supports and that could happen over the next 100 years or so?

Robin Hanson:


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Ridesharing offers advantages over taxis while destabilizing secure jobs. Like so much of the modern economy, it’s a victory for consumers at the expense of workers. The endgame for cabbies may be Lyft providing reservations in advance, something Uber has now emulated. The funny thing is the two services are locked in a death battle, each hoping to become a monopoly, and if Uber already had the field to itself, it never would have been able to ape its competitor’s innovation. That scenario would be bad for both workers and consumers.

From the Economist:

One of the things that appeals to business travellers about Lyft is the ability to book cars in advance, a service the firm unveiled earlier this year. With Uber, on the other hand, clients can only book a ride as and when they want it, and must hope that there is a driver nearby (although there nearly always is). That explains why Uber announced last week that it will follow Lyft’s example and allow riders to book cars between 30 minutes and 30 days in advance.

All things being equal, that development will sound the death knell for taxis; expect cabs’ share of the business market to diminish to almost nothing in the coming years. That will leave only one battle worth watching: that between Uber and Lyft. In all likelihood, only one will be left standing. As Om Malik, a startup-watcher, pointed out in the New Yorker earlier this year, the importance of network effects means that most competition in Silicon Valley now leads towards one monopolistic winner.•

liberland1 liberland-1If Silicon Valley Libertarians collectively vomited over a three-square-mile space, the result might resemble the blueprint for Liberland, a planned micronation of 400,000 that aims to be situated on a legally disputed dot of land between Serbia and Croatia. The not-yet-a-nation is the brainchild of right-wing Czech politician Vít Jedlička, who enlisted architects and economists to focus on sustainability and optional tariffs. The experimental mini-country, which will almost definitely never come to fruition, is committed to being a car-less, algae-powered tax haven. If on the off chance it actually was realized to some degree, it would likely be a clusterfuck.

Excerpts from two articles follow, the first from Adele Peters new Fastcoexist piece, the latter from Daniel Nolan’s 2015 Guardian report.

To save space (the whole country is only three square miles) but allow the city to grow, neighborhoods are stacked in layers.

“I envisioned an intimate-scale city,” says Raya Ani, director of RAW-NYC, the architecture firm that created the winning design in response to a competition hosted by Liberland. Rather than build massive skyscrapers to house the 400,000 people who hope to live in the new city, each layer includes smaller, densely arranged buildings that allow sunlight to reach the street.

The underside of each platform is covered with algae—a genetically engineered version that doesn’t require sunlight to grow, and that can be converted into power. “The horizontal surface layer seemed to be the perfect home to grow algae that could power the city,” she says.

The design also includes solar power, and a waste-to-energy system that converts any organic waste to biogas for cooking. Other trash is incinerated to create electricity.

In the design, the neighborhoods are clustered around transit, with libraries, sports arenas, and other public areas no more than a 10-minute walk from public transit. The city is also covered with bike and pedestrian paths—with zero cars.

“It’s a very walkable city where you could reach any point at a reasonable time whether you use the train or you walk,” says Ani.•

From the Guardian:

In the week since Liberland announced its creation and invited prospective residents to join the project, they have received about 200,000 citizenship applications – one every three seconds – from almost every country in the world.

Prospective citizens are also offering Liberland their expertise in areas from solar power and telecoms to town planning and coin minting. “There is a spontaneous ordering taking place,” Jedlicka says. “People have planned the whole city in three days and others really want to move in and invest … what seemed like a dream now really looks possible.”

Liberland’s only stipulations are that applicants respect individual rights, opinions and private property, and have no criminal record or Nazi or Communist party background.

Jedlicka says: “The model citizen of Liberland would be [American founding father] Thomas Jefferson, which is why we established the country on his birthday. Citizens will be able to pursue happiness and this is the place where we can make this happen.”

Crucial to this flourishing, he believes, is fiscal policy. Liberland is the dream of a man whose earlier membership of the Czech Civic Democratic party and current loyalty to the Free Citizens party puts him firmly on the right. Staunchly anti-EU, Jedlicka says he has “pretty close relations” with the Swiss People’s party and “will meet with British politicians to discuss Nigel Farage’s plans to leave the EU”.

“Taxation will be optional and people will only finance specific development projects,” says Jedlicka. “We have to see how the foreign ministries react and we need to explain to them the kind of prosperity we can bring to the region. It will bring in money from all over the world: not only to Liberland, which would be a tax haven, but to the whole area. We could turn this area into a Monaco, Liechtenstein or Hong Kong.•

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Jacque Fresco, one of those fascinating people who walks through life building a world inside his head, hoping it eventually influences the wider one, is now into his second century of life. A futurist and designer who’s focused much of his work on sustainable living, technology and automation, Fresco is the brains behind the Venus Project, which encourages a post-money, post-scarcity, post-politician utopia. He’s clearly a template for many of today’s Silicon Valley aspiring game-changers.

Caroline Winter of Bloomberg Businessweek traveled to Middle-of-Nowhere, Florida (pop: Fresco + girlfriend and collaborator Roxanne Meadows), to write “The 100-Year-Old Man Who Lives in the Future,” a smart portrait of the visionary after ten decades of reimagining the world according to his own specifications. He doesn’t think the road to a computer-governed utopia will be smooth, however. As Winter writes: “Once modern life gets truly hard, Fresco believes there will be a revolution that will clear the way for the Venus Project to be built. ‘There will be a lot of people getting shot, including me,’ he says wryly.”

An excerpt from her story is followed by one from a 1985 Sun Sentinel profile by Scott Eyman, and two videos, the first about Project Venus and the second a 1974 interview conducted by a pre-suspenders Larry King.

From Bloomberg:

To reach the Venus Project Research Center, a utopian compound created by a 100-year-old futurist, drive through vast stretches of fields, orchards, and dirt roads in south-central Florida. There’s little cell phone service and no signs of other humans on the way to a white gate. A sandy path flanked by lush tropical trees leads to a cluster of white dome-like structures. Inside one sits Jacque Fresco, hunched on a couch within his own model of an ideal society.

Fresco, now hard of hearing, gave me a nod when I visited in March. “Thank you for driving all this way,” said Roxanne Meadows, 67, a former portrait artist and Fresco’s longtime girlfriend and collaborator. A dozen people had turned out that day to see the secluded 21-acre property, including Venus Project devotees from as far away as Australia.

Fresco’s 100th birthday bash, held days earlier at a convention center in Fort Myers, drew more than 600 fans. For them, these rounded retro structures in the wilds of Florida are a hint of what could be: a master plan for a City of the Future without money, a place where all needs are met by technology. That city, Fresco says, will be run not by politicians but by a central computer that will distribute resources as needed. It’s a vision he’s been working on for most of his life. “A machine doesn’t have emotions,” Fresco likes to say. “It’s not susceptible to corruption.” Social engineering and favorable living circumstances will ensure that people act responsibly toward one another.•

From the Sun Sentinel:

You can hear the glorious, smoothly humming hydraulic future in Jacque Fresco`s eager voice, see it in the eye in your mind. Cities and their inhabitants thrive under the sea. Houses are heated by pipes laid beneath highways that conduit the gathered asphalt heat into private residences. Grain is stored in the natural refrigerator of the polar regions.

Fossil fuels have been abandoned, as solar power runs everything from your air-conditioning — if you need it in houses that are properly built and insulated, which you probably won`t — to your backyard barbecue, where a mirror and two pyrex reflectors cook both sides of the meat at the same time. And when something goes wrong with your car, two handles are turned, the entire engine unit pulls out, a courtesy engine is plugged in and you`re back on the road while the garage works to find the problem.

Welcome to the future, or at least Jacque Fresco`s vision of it. It all seems eminently attainable . . . until you open your eyes and look around. What you see are 22 acres with four organically flowing domed structures — two of which are finished, one of which is furnished — a little lake with a baby alligator sunning himself by the water`s edge, and a landscaped path leading back among 400-year-old cypress trees. It is here, on this quiet patch of land in Venus, Fla., that Jacque Fresco and his companion, Roxanne Meadows, are constructing a prototype of the possible.

“I tried walking around with a briefcase, and selling myself,” says the peppery Fresco, a vigorous and muscular 69. “And I found that people think you`re an idiot if you don`t have anything to show them, if all you have are ideas and a vision. All right. I`ll show them something.”

Welcome to the world of Jacque Fresco, social conceptualist and inventor, one of those people who create something tangible where before there existed only that most intangible of intangibles: an idea.•



It almost never ends well for a demagogue nor for the demagogue’s people. Fascists are merely vulgar clowns until they’re in a position to do grave damage.

Was reading a passage from a 1925 article that ran in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle which begins this way: “Benito Mussolini is a fascinating character.” The writer wonders why Il Duce’s insane utterings demand rapt attention when others making similar statements would be jeered from the stage. That thought, of course, brings to mind the odious campaign of Donald Trump, a deeply wounded man who works a room like Torquemada as a Reality TV host.

James Baker has asserted he’s unafraid of a Trump Presidency, our checks and balances there to restrain his worst impulses. But a sick, authoritarian mind even scribbling in the margins of the Constitution could wreak havoc. The scariest part of the report below is that it argued the Italian dictator was already in steep decline, but just think how much suffering he caused before ultimately meeting the business end of a meat hook.




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So glad Vanity Fair is a vital, lively thing again, no mean feat to accomplish during the media’s winter of discontent. The magazine has always published some great articles in the Graydon Carter years, but for awhile it began to feel like the house organ of the Kennedy Administration, an odd choice for this millennium. With what appears to be the same people atop the masthead, the title reinvented itself for the Digital Age. Good work by all involved.

Nick Bilton, a recent hire at VF, weighs in on the Peter Thiel-Gawker contretemps, applying lessons learned from the ugly gamesmanship more broadly, examining how wealth inequality plus Silicon Valley hubris is a danger of some degree to democracy. The Libertarian billionaire and freshly minted Trump delegate may be elated over forcing Gawker into bankruptcy, but he’s proven to be a very good argument for a return to the Eisenhower era’s draconian progressive tax rates. The arrogance isn’t limited to the politically dicey and thin-skinned, either. Even a seemingly progressive person like Elon Musk believes he should decide what type of government Mars should have. How nice for him.

The former NYT scribe came to realize Thiel’s lack of empathy when he visited the Paypal co-founder’s home for a dinner gathering of business and media types and was subjected to the host’s weird diet of the moment. A petty complaint perhaps but a telling one when applied to matters of greater importance. An excerpt:

I was struck by a profound epiphany about Silicon Valley: Thiel, in many ways, sums up the entire mentality of the tech industry. He doesn’t necessarily care what other people want; if Thiel is on a weird and special diet, then we should all be on a weird and special diet. If Thiel thinks that people shouldn’t go to college because it’s a waste of time, as he’s said innumerable times before—regardless of the way such a decision could affect people’s lives in the future—then we are all fools for not dropping out. (Thiel, for what it is worth, has a B.A. and law degree from Stanford.)

If Thiel thinks people who wear suits are “bad at sales and worse at tech,” then you better change your sartorial choices. Go buy a hoodie; look the part. And if Thiel wants to disrupt how Washington works, he will become a delegate for Donald Trump. If he thinks that a blog called Gawker shouldn’t exist, then he will try to eradicate it. (Thiel did not return my request to comment for this article.)

I’m not telling this story to defend Gawker. I personally feel that citing the First Amendment to justify outing someone as gay (as Gawker did to Thiel, in 2007), or publishing a sex tape as “news” (as the site billed its Hulk Hogan scoop), is heinous. But the First Amendment in our country says the press has certain rights. That’s the law. As citizens, we have to abide by it.

But reality doesn’t seem to be the case for some of the elite in Silicon Valley. They play by their own rules. There is, of course, a positive side to all of this. These so-called disruptors have given us the iPhone and Uber and PayPal. But there is also a darker side, too—and we’re really starting to see those forces at work now. For a long time, technology pundits have wondered what will happen to the relatively young, very rich, Silicon Valley elite after they leave the companies that they created, and that made them wildly and incomprehensibly rich. What does Mark Zuckerberg, who is just 32, do after Facebook? Where does Travis Kalanick, 39, go after he’s done at Uber? What about all the young V.C.s in their 30s and 40s worth hundreds of millions?

These aren’t the kind of people who simply retire on a beach and sip Soylent through a thin straw.•

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The swarm intelligence system known as UNU, which recently did a Reddit AMA about politics, returned to conduct one about futurism. Human extinction, Brexit, driverless cars, Mars colonization, technological unemployment and marijuana legalization were among the topics. The question isn’t whether all of the answers are correct–they wont be–but whether such systems can get to the point where they outperform groups of humans educated on a topic. A few exchanges below.


What are the chances that humanity will go extinct before we become an interplanetary species?


UNU SAYS: “1%”

COMMENTARY: UNU expressed a high level of faith in humanity. Or, maybe he expects us to reach Mars pretty soon. Either way, it seems we will reach another planet before we wipe ourselves out.


What will be the average human life-span in 2050?


UNU SAYS: “98 years old”

COMMENTARY: UNU expressed high conviction on this point.

It’s worth pointing out that people who live to 98 years old in 2050 will have lived most of their life under current technology. It would be interesting to ask UNU what the lifespan of people BORN in 2050 would be.


How long until we can hail autonomous taxis?


UNU says: 7 years.

Let’s check back on this one in 2023.


Will Space X hit their target to put people on Mars in 2025?


UNU SAYS: “I’m Torn”

COMMENTARY: UNU was highly conflicted on this question. In fact, it took two tries to reach an answer.


Will the UK vote to leave the EU in the upcoming referendum




COMMENTARY: UNU expressed high certainty around this answer, but did not go for the stronger answers of “I don’t believe”


Do you think robots will take our jobs?



COMMENTARY: UNU was surprisingly certain about this fact.


When will universal basic income be implemented in Europe?


UNU says: 5 years

Europe is way ahead of the US on this one, according to UNU.


The first permanent settlement on Mars will be in __ years?




Is the first person to live 200 years already born?


UNU says: totally disagree

Note: except for Peter Thiel, of course.


How many years until cannabis is federally legal in the US?


UNU SAYS: Cannabis will be federally legal in the US within 10 years.


When will artificial/lab grown meat be as common as traditional meat?




Will artificial intelligence eventually overthrow the human race as the dominant lifeforms on Earth? Yes, no, possibly, or unlikely?


UNU says: i doubt it

Let’s call that “unlikely?”•


Earlier in the week, I published a post about science writer Fred Hapgood’s 2003 prediction that automated drilling would lead to the rapid development of underground cities and even a global subway system. It proved to be a dream deferred, at the very least.

A few decades earlier, when American cities were marked by blight and in desperate need of renewal, underground real estate was often theorized as an important piece of the puzzle, a haven for pedestrians in climate-controlled environments. Montreal took advantage of this underutilized resource thanks largely to the subterranean visions of urban planner Vincent Ponte, but most cities failed to capitalize.

In “What Happened to the Dream of Underground Cities?” Ernie Smith of Vice “Motherboard” wonders what went wrong. An excerpt:

A funny thing happened since Ponte had his time in the sun. To put it simply, the idea of the underground city has become more controversial. Now, urban leaders see them as an antiseptic way to draw in suburbanites, rather than a way to give people flavor of the actual city. They’re almost seen as a way to get around the city, rather than to dive in. That may have been a good idea when downtowns were seen as scary by tourists, but during an era when high-rise lofts are common and bars are hipper than ever? Not so much.

In fact, one of Ponte’s project cities, Dallas, has spent years pushing back against the urban planning work he put in 45 years ago. Onetime Dallas city mayor Laura Miller, speaking to the New York Times in a 2005 interview, didn’t mince words.

”If I could take a cement mixer and pour cement in and clog up the tunnels, I would do it today,” Miller told the Times, the very newspaper where Ponte made his argument for underground cities 38 years earlier. ”It was the worst urban planning decision that Dallas has ever made. They thought it was hip and groovy to create an underground community, but it was a death knell.”

The city has since de-emphasized the tunnels in its marketing, and in 2011, a report on the city’s future development referred to Ponte’s grand idea as “a sterile, unexciting environment that draws life from streets above.”

Unfortunate for Dallas, but for Montreal, the urban area under the surface remains lively—it has become one of the things Montreal is known for, a tourist must-see with four stars on TripAdvisor. Like most other big Canadian cities, Toronto has one as well, built up around the same time as Montreal’s, but it’s used by a third as many people as Montreal’s is on a daily basis.

Outside of Montreal, at least, urban renewal came not from the massive network of tunnels, but from a massive change in perception. We like our downtowns these days.


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When it comes to robotics, China is developing a yawning credibility gap. More than most nations, it desperately needs machines of varying levels of intelligence to deal with work that can’t be fulfilled by a rapidly graying population. “Robots will show up in China just in time,” predicts Daniel Kahneman. The nation certainly hopes so.

Hoping and executing are two different things, however. In 2011, Foxconn promised a million robots would be installed in its factories within three years. That did not transpire. More recently, the Apple-enabler was reported as saying it was on the verge of automating 60,000 jobs. According to an article by Adam Minter of Bloomberg, that appears to have been an empty promise as well. You could dismiss the hype as the irresponsibility of one giant company except the writer reports that bureaucrats were intimately involved with the deception.

From Minter:

The story first turned up in mid-May: Foxconn, Apple’s favorite manufacturer, was replacing 60,000 of its workers with robots. Everyone from the BBC to Apple fan sites soon reported the ground-shifting news. There was just one problem: It was mostly false.

Last weekend, a Foxconn spokesperson told Chinese media that the company hadn’t laid off anyone, much less replaced them with automation. That part of the story came from overly enthusiastic bureaucrats in Kunshan, a manufacturing town keen to promote itself as a hub for innovation.

The incident seemed like an apt metaphor. Across China, officials are hoping that robots are the future. Thirty-six cities claimed last year that robotics was critical to their development. More than 40 government-funded robot industrial parks have recently opened or are in the works. Shenzhen, the southern Chinese tech hub, is now home to more than 3,000 robotics companies — up from 200 just two years ago.

In theory, this should be great news for a country hoping to encourage innovation In reality, it’s a sign that China has subsidized yet another investment bubble with capital that would’ve been better invested elsewhere.•



Donald Trump, the Dumpster fire of American politics, is sad despite all the Happy Meals. His immense psychological wounds and elephantine ego cause him to receive concerns about ISIS terrorism and needling about his defunct line of steaks with equal gravity. He’s incapable of staying on message, and since he will be besieged about his dicey business practices between now and November–just read the new USA Today article about all the working people he’s allegedly stiffed–his campaign will be scattershot in an unprecedented way. 

Michael D’Antonio, author of The Truth About Trump, has spent a good deal of time interviewing Bull Connor as a condo salesman as well as his family members, with Donald Jr.’s comments about his “genetic superiority” particularly telling. The journalist shared his findings in an Ask Me Anything at Reddit. A few exchanges follow.


Do you think Trump has a sense of morality?

Michael D’Antonio:

Good question. He understand right and wrong on a basic level, but he doesn’t have a lot of empathy for other people. He judges every situation on the basis of how it affects him.he also will take things to extremes…to places where others won’t go…in order to get what he wants. Related to this is an exchange I had with him about his criticism of a famous elderly actress. Kim Novak. He tweeted horrible stuff about her. I asked him about it and his reply was “I don’t think I got into a lot of trouble for that.” He didn’t understand that he hurt her and that was what I was asking about.


In your opinion, how much of the Trump persona that the average person sees is authentically him and how much of it is an act?

Michael D’Antonio:

It’s weird…much of what we see on the campaign trial is authentic. He is very opinionated and believes very strongly that he is one of the most intelligent and talented people in the world. Seriously, in the world. So all the bluster is real.


What about that casino? How did he fail to take money from suckers on that one?

Michael D’Antonio:

Strange isn’t it that he was in a business where the “house” always wins, and somehow he lost. The big problem there was that he got overextended with construction. He ran up huge debt he couldn’t service. Also, Trump is a good deal maker but a so-so operator of businesses. He gets bored with managing complex service industries and doesn’t do well.


What’s the secret to stopping him?

Michael D’Antonio:

I think the key to stopping him is gentle mockery. It would be a bad idea to get down in the gutter with him. Nicknames and wild accusations wouldn’t work. But if a candidate points out his deficiencies, and keeps reminding voters of his failures including Trump U and the bankruptcies, he will feel provoked and do self destructive things.


How was it meeting and interviewing all of his family members? Any big surprises there?

Michael D’Antonio: 

His kids are smart, and well spoken. I was pretty shocked, though, when Donald Jr. told me that the family believes that people are like “racehorses” and that breeding is what matters. he said he was the product of the breeding of a high quality mother and a high quality father so he was genetically destined to succeed at a high level. Very weird stuff to say on the record. His wife Ivana was interesting. She started to tell me she thought that Donald could be explained as a guy who was never loved and sought to make up for it by seeking attention from the world. Then she stopped and said, “You know, I don’t really understand him at all.” She’s known him for forty years and still doesn’t get him.


What is the truth about Trump in one sentence?

Michael D’Antonio:

The Truth About Trump is that he is a damaged man, with an enormous ego, who wants the prize of the Presidency because it’s the biggest thing he could possibly go for.•

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In 1969, computer-processing magnate Ross Perot had a McLuhan-ish dream: an electronic town hall in which interactive television and computer punch cards would allow the masses, rather than elected officials, to decide key American policies. In 1992, he held fast to this goal–one that was perhaps more democratic than any society could survive–when he bankrolled his own populist third-party Presidential campaign.

Today Elon Musk wants to blast this vision of direct democracy to Mars, writes Loren Grush of the Verge, asserting that representational government is too prone to corruption. Whether or not Musk realizes his dream of dying on Mars–but not on impact–his grand ambitions speak to the insanity of wealth inequality in the second Gilded Age. The SpaceX technologist seems one of the more well-intentioned thinkers among Silicon Valley’s freshly minted billionaires, but think how preposterous it is that any individual is declaring what type of government a planet we’ve never visited most likely will have. 

Walter Isaacson famously compared Musk to Benjamin Franklin, but the latter flew kites any child could purchase. Musk’s toys are far more expensive and in the hands of the few. That’s not really good for a democracy, direct or otherwise.

An excerpt:

Elon Musk has been pretty focused on setting up a colony on Mars, so naturally he has a few ideas as to the type of government the Red Planet should have. Speaking at ReCode’s Code Conference on Wednesday night, the SpaceX CEO said he envisions a direct democracy for Martian colonies, as a way to avoid corruption.

“Most likely the form of government on Mars would be a direct democracy, not representative,” said Musk. “So it would be people voting directly on issues. And I think that’s probably better, because the potential for corruption is substantially diminished in a direct versus a representative democracy.”

Musk also suggested that on Mars it should be harder to create laws than it is to get rid of ones that aren’t working well. “I think I would recommend some adjustment for the inertia of laws would be wise. It should probably be easier to remove a law than create one,” said Musk. “I think that’s probably good, because laws have infinite life unless they’re taken away.”•

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There’s no easy answer if it’s different this time than during the Industrial Revolution and the tens of millions of jobs that are automated into oblivion aren’t replaced by equal or better positions. Most often the best possible solution offered is that we need an education system that enables adult Americans to transition into higher-skilled positions and instills children with greater critical thinking that will allow for a more flexible mindset as industries rapidly rise and fall. That would be wonderful, but I think it ignores reality to some extent. If the new normal is abnormal by the standards we’ve come to expect, then, regardless of schooling, some–perhaps many, too many–will be left behind. What becomes of them? What becomes of us? 

In a New York Times piece, Eduardo Porter, who doesn’t support Universal Basic Income, tries to think through this potentially scary scenario in which scarcity isn’t a problem but distribution is a big one. The opening:

They replaced horses, didn’t they? That’s how the late, great economist Wassily Leontief responded 35 years ago to those who argued technology would never really replace people’s work.

Horses hung around in the labor force for quite some time after they were first challenged by “modern” communications technologies like the telegraph and the railroad, hauling stuff and people around farms and cities. But when the internal combustion engine came along, horses — as a critical component of the world economy — were history.

Cutting horses’ oat rations might have delayed their replacement by tractors, but it wouldn’t have stopped it. All that was left to do, for those who cared for 20 million newly unemployed horses, was to put them out to pasture.

“Had horses had an opportunity to vote and join the Republican or Democratic Party,” Leontief wrote, they might have been able to get “the necessary appropriation from Congress.”

Most economists still reject Professor Leontief’s analogy, but the conventional economic consensus is starting to fray. The productivity figures may not reflect it yet but new technology does seem more fundamentally disruptive than technologies of the past. Robots are learning on their own. Self-driving cars seem just a few regulations away from our city streets.

As the idea sinks in that humans as workhorses might also be on the way out, what happens if the job market stops doing the job of providing a living wage for hundreds of millions of people? How will the economy spread money around, so people can afford to pay the rent?•


If you want to know anything about American politics, a cable news TV personality may be the last person to ask.

Jake Tapper, who passes for a relatively serious passenger in Jeff Zucker’s clown car of infotainment known as CNN, sat for a Spiegel Q&A conducted by Gordon Repinski and Holger Stark. When Tapper acknowledges some in the U.S. media who’ve interviewed Donald Trump have let him get away with murder,” he could be speaking of anchors on his own network or Maureen Dowd or anyone with a microphone looking for low-cost content in a terrible advertising environment for media outlets.

It’s a very good, thoughtful interview, though I wish the Spiegel interlocutors had called out Tapper on his statement that “illegal immigration has a huge impact on the American economy.” The suggestion is that undocumented workers have somehow hurt U.S. citizens in the workforce, though most economists would disagree, believing this cheap labor force has actually boosted our economy.

An excerpt:


What did the media and the political establishment miss over the last few years?

Jake Tapper:

A lot of substantive things that you have to give Trump his due for. On immigration, there is a degree of nativism involved in the demand to construct the wall, but I do think a lot of what’s driving Trump supporters on the issue of illegal immigration and building a wall is a basic duty of a government to keep the nation’s borders under control. Illegal immigration also has a huge impact on the American economy. And a lot of people think that the government has not taken this issue seriously.


Which other topics are important?

Jake Tapper:

Terrorism and trade policy are clearly topics where Trump expresses the fears and concerns of many American people. There is a widespread feeling in this country that the government has been too willing to go into trade deals that sent American jobs to Mexico or to China. The affected communities feel left behind. This is what Trump’s supporters and Sanders’ supporters have in common. It is one of the reasons for Trump’s rise.


It sounds as if people are finally putting their feet down.

Jake Tapper:

That’s part of it, though certainly there are parts of this campaign that have been ugly. I understand all that, and I’m not justifying any of the more offensive behavior this campaign season — I just want to make sure people also understand there are policy issues here as well, years of issues that have been ignored or at least not taken seriously enough by the Republican Party. The Republican Party was out of touch with a large plurality and ultimately a majority of their own voters.


What kind of showdown between Clinton and Trump do you expect?

Jake Tapper:

Nasty, ugly, horrible.•

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Imagine Michael Wolff was seated in a Beverly Hills mansion with another person and the media reporter was only the second most evil one in the room. Who could the other dickwad be? Mussolini? Coach Knight? Justin Bieber? A combination of all three, in a sense. It was Donald Trump, the GOP nominee, who answered Wolff’s questions while scarfing down a pint of Haagen-Dazs—vanilla, of course–desperate to add some bulk to his delicate frame.

During the conversation for a Hollywood Reporter profile, Trump acknowledged he’s proud there are machine-gun-toting police surrounding his home and is ebullient about being told by his son-in-law that he might now be the world’s most famous person. That could be true because let’s face it, whether you love or hate Trump, you must admit his Q rating is approaching Hitler territory.

It’s brisk and well-written, as all Wolff pieces are, with Trump coming across particularly badly when unfamiliar with the term “Brexit,” but in all fairness, he was busy all afternoon measuring his penis. Of course, revealing the hideous hotelier as provincial, uninformed and poorly read is like exposing the Pope as male, Catholic and big-hatted.

Two excerpts follow.

I ask if he sees himself as having similarities with leaders of the growing anti-immigrant (some would say outright racist) European nativist movements, like Marine Le Pen in France and Matteo Salvini in Italy, whom The Wall Street Journal reported Trump had met with and endorsed in Philadelphia. (“Matteo, I wish you become the next Italian premier soon,” Trump was quoted as saying.) In fact, he insists he didn’t meet Salvini. “I didn’t want to meet him.” And, in sum, he doesn’t particularly see similarities — or at least isn’t interested in them — between those movements and the anti-immigrant nationalism he is promoting in this country.

“And Brexit? Your position?” I ask.




“The Brits leaving the EU,” I prompt, realizing that his lack of familiarity with one of the most pressing issues in Europe is for him no concern nor liability at all.

“Oh yeah, I think they should leave.”

It is hard not to feel that Trump understands himself, and that we’re all in on this kind of spectacular joke.•

I ask that de rigeur presidential question, which does not seem yet to have been asked of him. “What books are you reading?”

He knows he’s caught (it’s a question that all politicians are prepped on, but who among his not-bookish coterie would have prepped him even with the standard GOP politician answer: the Bible?). But he goes for it.

“I’m reading the Ed Klein book on Hillary Clinton” — a particular hatchet job, which at the very least has certainly been digested for him. “And I’m reading the book on Richard Nixon that was, well, I’ll get you the exact information on it. I’m reading a book that I’ve read before, it’s one of my favorite books, All Quiet on the Western Front, which is one of the greatest books of all time.” And one I suspect he’s suddenly remembering from high school. But what the hell.•

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Despite the fears of really brilliant people like Stephen Hawking, superintelligent machines aren’t likely to enslave or eradicate humans anytime soon. It’s not impossible that eventually brains can be put into machines (and vice versa), but none of us will be alive to see that day. Hopefully our descendants will make good decisions.

The more pressing problem is that Weak AI has a good chance over the next few decades to eliminate millions of solid jobs, and then what do all the truckers, cabbies, delivery drivers, front-desk people, bellhops, fast-food workers and others do? It’s been said that we should retrain them for positions that are more analytical and cerebral, but that’s easier said than done. Some will be left behind by the sweep of history. How many?

In Brian Fung’s smart Washington Post piece “Everything You Think You Know About AI Is Wrong,” the writer tries to identify the challenges ahead and the course we can take to meet them. An excerpt:

So who is going to lose their job?

Partly because we’re better at designing these limited AI systems, some experts predict that high-skilled workers will adapt to the technology as a tool, while lower-skill jobs are the ones that will see the most disruption. When the Obama administration studied the issue, it found that as many as 80 percent of jobs currently paying less than $20 an hour might someday be replaced by AI.

“That’s over a long period of time, and it’s not like you’re going to lose 80 percent of jobs and not reemploy those people,” Jason Furman, a senior economic advisor to President Obama, said in an interview. “But [even] if you lose 80 percent of jobs and reemploy 90 percent or 95 percent of those people, it’s still a big jump up in the structural number not working. So I think it poses a real distributional challenge.”

Policymakers will need to come up with inventive ways to meet this looming jobs problem. But the same estimates also hint at a way out: Higher-earning jobs stand to be less negatively affected by automation. Compared to the low-wage jobs, roughly a third of those who earn between $20 and $40 an hour are expected to fall out of work due to robots, according to Furman. And only a sliver of high-paying jobs, about 5 percent, may be subject to robot replacement.

Those numbers might look very different if researchers were truly on the brink of creating sentient AI that can really do all the same things a human can. In this hypothetical scenario, even high-skilled workers might have more reason to fear. But the fact that so much of our AI research right now appears to favor narrow forms of artificial intelligence at least suggests we could be doing a lot worse.•



Charles Murray is an academic given to racist pseudoscience and an alleged meritocrat who embraces Sarah Palin, but politics make for strange bedfellows, so he’s currently aligned with liberal progressives and Silicon Valley libertarians in promoting Universal Basic Income.

Beyond the questions of if UBI is the right tack to take during the early stages of the Digital Age and whether it’s fiscally feasible, there’s the matter of how it would be executed if we were to do it. A hammer can be a tool or a weapon depending on how you swing it, and UBI could be a means to mitigate a struggling Americans or it could be a punitive measure. Even a grandmother-murdering machine like P90X bro Paul Ryan might get excited about Basic Income should he be able to use it to dismantle all other safety nets, Social Security included. Even for retired folks who never made great salaries, replacing Social Security with a UBI check would markedly reduce their incomes, which are pretty bare existences to begin with.

Not really surprised that Murray is in this camp as well, hoping to seem like a big-hearted person worried about technological unemployment while he’s really jonesing to do away with the so-called “welfare state.” In his WSJ “Saturday Essay” on the topic, he writes, “The UBI is to be financed by getting rid of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, Supplemental Security Income, housing subsidies, welfare for single women and every other kind of welfare and social-services program, as well as agricultural subsidies and corporate welfare.” Think of all the jobs this would create in the funeral-parlor sector!

The opening:

When people learn that I want to replace the welfare state with a universal basic income, or UBI, the response I almost always get goes something like this: “But people will just use it to live off the rest of us!” “People will waste their lives!” Or, as they would have put it in a bygone age, a guaranteed income will foster idleness and vice. I see it differently. I think that a UBI is our only hope to deal with a coming labor market unlike any in human history and that it represents our best hope to revitalize American civil society.

The great free-market economist Milton Friedman originated the idea of a guaranteed income just after World War II. An experiment using a bastardized version of his “negative income tax” was tried in the 1970s, with disappointing results. But as transfer payments continued to soar while the poverty rate remained stuck at more than 10% of the population, the appeal of a guaranteed income persisted: If you want to end poverty, just give people money. As of 2016, the UBI has become a live policy option. Finland is planning a pilot project for a UBI next year, and Switzerland is voting this weekend on a referendum to install a UBI.

The UBI has brought together odd bedfellows. Its advocates on the left see it as a move toward social justice; its libertarian supporters (like Friedman) see it as the least damaging way for the government to transfer wealth from some citizens to others. Either way, the UBI is an idea whose time has finally come, but it has to be done right.

First, my big caveat: A UBI will do the good things I claim only if it replaces all other transfer payments and the bureaucracies that oversee them. If the guaranteed income is an add-on to the existing system, it will be as destructive as its critics fear.

Second, the system has to be designed with certain key features. In my version, every American citizen age 21 and older would get a $13,000 annual grant deposited electronically into a bank account in monthly installments. Three thousand dollars must be used for health insurance (a complicated provision I won’t try to explain here), leaving every adult with $10,000 in disposable annual income for the rest of their lives.•


The winners of the 1960 Olympic medals for light heavyweight boxing on the winners' podium at Rome: Cassius Clay (now Muhammad Ali) (C), gold; Zbigniew Pietrzykowski of Poland (R), silver; and Giulio Saraudi (Italy) and Anthony Madigan (Australia), joint bronze. (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)


Blessed with peerless gifts for gab and jab, Muhammad Ali, a lightly educated son of Louisville, became the most significant athlete in American history and one of the nation’s key figures of the 20th century. He wasn’t always right but in the big picture, he was firmly on the right side of history.

Ali would have been a master showman in any age, a Barnum of boxing, as he’d patterned his speech on professional wrestling promos, hoping to encourage people to pay to see him lose. He didn’t enter the ring at any time, though, but during the age when the Civil Rights Movement was to have its biggest moment and the Vietnam War was to call his number. He quickly became politicized, converted to Muslim, joined the first fight and refused the second, surrendering his championship and financial security for his principles.

His titanic bouts with Joe Frazier and George Foreman, which would cement him as the greatest heavyweight ever, occurred after this period of exile ended, but it was during this time he became “the Greatest.” 

The opening of Robert Lipsyte’s excellent 1964 New York Times report on Ali’s first triumph over Sonny Liston is followed by links to some of the Afflictor Ali posts from over the years.

From Lipsyte:

MIAMI BEACH – Incredibly, the loud-mouthed, bragging, insulting youngster had been telling the truth all along. Cassius Clay won the heavyweight title tonight when a bleeding Sonny Liston, his left shoulder injured, was unable to answer the bell for the seventh round. Immediately after he had been announced as the new heavyweight champion of the world, Clay yelled to the newsmen covering the fight: “Eat your words.” Only 3 of 46 sports writers covering the fight had picked him to win.

A crowd of 8,297, on its feet through the early rounds at Convention Hall, sat stunned during the one-minute rest period between the sixth and seventh rounds. Only Clay seemed to know what had happened: he threw up his hands and danced a little jig in the center of the ring. The victory was scored as a technical knockout in the seventh round, one round less than Clay had predicted. Liston had seemingly injured the shoulder in the first round while swinging at and missing the elusive 22-year-old.

The fight was Clay’s from the start. The tall, swift youngster, his hands carelessly low, backed away from Liston’s jabs, circled around Liston’s dangerous left hook and opened a nasty gash under Liston’s left eye. From the beginning, it was hard to believe. All those interminable refrains of “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee,” had been more than foolish songs. The kid was floating. He leaned back from Liston’s jabs and hooks, backed into the ropes, then spun out and away. He moved clockwise around Liston, taunting that terrible left hook, his hands still low. Then he stung, late in the first round, sticking his left in Liston’s face and following with a quick barrage to Liston’s head. They continued for long seconds after the bell, unable to hear the inadequate ring above the roar of the crowd.•


Don’t count James Baker among the Republicans in the #NeverTrump crowd, despite his decades-long Bushie status and the mockery the hideous hotelier made of the Jeb! campaign, almost immediately erasing the exclamation point.

In a Financial Times profile written by Lionel Barber, the former Secretary State doesn’t take the opportunity to chide Trump for his racism, xenophobia, mockery of the disabled and military veterans, megalomania and spoiled-brat behavior, focusing instead on questions of power and policy. Such pragmatism may not be surprising for a lifelong political operator, but it’s still disappointing.

An excerpt:

As a Bush loyalist, Baker is too discreet to talk about the abject failure of Jeb Bush’s campaign. Insiders say he was disappointed that the former Florida governor spent so much time talking about the past and the Bush dynasty rather than his own plans for the future. Trump’s “low energy” jibe struck a chord with voters, like his invective about immigration and blue-collar workers losing out in the age of globalisation. “That’s the thing about Trump. As much as we might disagree with his position, the voters don’t.” he says. “The question is whether a ‘faceless’ establishment decides where our party goes or do the voters.” …

The number one foreign policy challenge for the US is China, he says.

“We have to be smart enough to manage the differences,” he says.

And how might a President Trump manage those differences, I ask. Baker offers general advice only.

“Isolationism and protectionism won’t work. Don’t talk no trade deals; make a better deal. Don’t talk about making Japan and South Korea nuclear powers. Don’t talk about negotiating down the American debt.”

I try one last shot. Are America and its institutions strong enough to survive any shock, even one as seismic as Donald Trump in the White House?

“Yes,” declares Baker, emphatically.

“I won’t get my panties in a wedge because of what I am hearing from the political candidates. What they say in the campaign and what they do once they are in the White House are not the same thing.”•

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Currently marching to the end of everything else I’m reading so I can start Robin Hanson’s The Age of Em: Work, Love and Life when Robots Rule the Earth, which sounds like remarkable science fiction, though the author insists it’s science–or will be soon enough. 

“Em” refers to brain emulations, computer reproductions of top-notch human brains which will provide gray matter for robots. These ems will then grow that intelligence far beyond our abilities. It’s will be something like Moore’s Law for intellect. We can use this method to produce inexpensive armies of ems to handle all the work, with Hanson predicting the world economy could continually increase at a heretofore impossible pace. Or maybe the ems will grow resentful and harm us. Perhaps a little of both.

Here’s a fuller description from the book’s website:

Many think the first truly smart robots will be brain emulations or ems. Scan a human brain, then run a model with the same connections on a fast computer, and you have a robot brain, but recognizably human.

Train an em to do some job and copy it a million times: an army of workers is at your disposal. When they can be made cheaply, within perhaps a century, ems will displace humans in most jobs. In this new economic era, the world economy may double in size every few weeks.•

The writer has a timeframe of roughly a century for when his outré vision can be realized. You know me: I always bet the way, way over when it comes to such dizzying visions. 

Hanson just conducted an AMA at Reddit on this topic and others. A few exchanges follow.


I understand how brain emulations could make things cheaper by flooding labour markets, but they will still only be as smart as the brains they were emulated from. Won’t scientific progress still be constrained by the upper limits of human intellect? Is there any way for brain emulations to get smarter than humans? I am aware that they could think faster than humans because they run on computers.

In your talks about brain emulations, you say that biological humans will have to buy assets to make money. Since the economy will grow very quickly with lots of emulated workers, it won’t take very many assets to generate a decent income. You also say that brain emulations will not earn very much money because there will be so many of them that wages will fall to the cost of utilities. Why don’t brain emulations buy assets like humans are supposed to in this future economy, and where are humans supposed to get the wealth to buy assets from since they won’t be able to work?

Robin Hanson:

Eventually, ems will find ways to make their brains smarter. But I’m not sure that will make much difference.

Humans need to buy assets before they lose their ability to earn wages. After is too late.


If and when Em like entities come into existence do you think society will embrace them be against them and actively try to stop them or will it be a case of “ready or not here I come” and they will force themselves upon us as their emergence will be like evolution?

Robin Hanson:

Most places will probably try to go slow, with commissions, reports, small trials, etc. A few places will let ems go wild, perhaps just due to neglect. Those few places can quickly grow to dominate the world economy. This may induce conflict, but eventually places allowing ems will win. Ems may resent and even retaliate against the places that tried to prevent them or hold them back.


So in this new economy humans wont actually be getting anymore “stuff” as all the growth will come from demand created by these Em?

Robin Hanson:

Humans will own a big % of the em economy, and use it to buy lots of “stuff” from ems.


Will we live in a utopia in 100 years?

Robin Hanson:

I don’t think humans are capable of seeing any world, no matter how nice, as “utopia”. We raise our standards and compete for relative status.•



Although it has a Magic 8 Ball vibe, the artificial hive mind UNU can’t offer vague retorts, so it’s a good thing the “brain of brains,” which operates on a swarm-intelligence principle, fared well with Oscar predictions and nailed the Kentucky Derby Superfecta. Turning its attention to the volatile realm of politics, UNU conducted a Reddit AMA, answering all things Trump, Hillary, Bernie and more. A few exchanges follow.


Where do you source your swarm intelligence from?


UNU is built as an open platform, so anyone can create their own Swarm Intelligence and populate it with people. When UNU predicted the Kentucky Derby and got the Superfecta right, we put an ad on Reddit and asked for volunteers who know about horse racing. We also put ads out on other sources like Amazon.

That said, a totally different group predicted the Trifecta correctly for the Preakness, two weeks after the Kentucky Derby and that one was fielded by a reporter, herself (Hope Reese, TechRepublic). She pulled together her own swarm, made her own predictions, and they more than doubled their money on Preakness day.

So, there’s lots of ways to form a swarm. The one thing that seems to always be true – the swarm will out-perform the individual members. For both the Preakness and Kentucky Derby, for example, none of the individual participants got the prediction right on their own. Only as a swarm did they win.


How is this different from a real time poll?


Since the system relies entirely on human knowledge and even instinct, it’s easy to think of it as a kind of crowdsourcing platform for opinions and intelligence. But according to Rosenberg, UNU doesn’t work like a poll or a survey that finds the average of the opinions in a group. Instead, it creates an artificial swarm that amplifies a group’s intelligence to create its own. For instance, when predicting the Derby winners, the group picked the first four horses accurately to win $11,000 in a grand bet called Superfecta. But individually, when asked to make the same predictions, none of the participants had more than one winning horse.


Hi UNU, I’ll ask the obvious question. Who will be the next President?


UNU SAYS: “Hillary Clinton”

COMMENTARY: This was a difficult decision for UNU, with the swarm highly divided.


Which of the current running candidates have the best skills suited for president of the United States?


UNU SAYS: “Bernie Sanders”

COMMENTARY: UNU was asked to pick among Trump, Clinton, and Sanders and had a preference for Sanders.


IF Bernie wins the nomination, how would he do against Trump?



COMMENTARY: UNU expressed strong conviction that Bernie Sanders would win big against TRUMP.


Voter turn out will be driven most by support for a candidate or dislike of a candidate?



COMMENTARY: UNU had VERY strong conviction on this point – 100% certainty.


What are the odds of campaign finance reform during a Clinton presidency (or any upcoming presidency for that matter)?



COMMENTARY: UNU has strong conviction on this point, expressing little faith that real campaign finance reform will occur.


Who will Donald Trump pick for Vice President?


UNU SAYS: “Chris Christie”

COMMENTARY: UNU has high conviction at the present time, although it’s still very early to make such a pick.


How similar would Trump be to Ronald Reagan if he won the presidency?



COMMENTARY: UNU expressed high conviction, showing 90% certainty in his answer.•


Edward Luce of the Financial Times has done some of the very best writing about America’s shock jock campaign season, in which the eternally insincere Donald Trump, a lower-case insult comic and Reality TV host, a narcissist who manages to steadfastly ignore the many cracks in his mirror, has won the GOP nomination, confounding his own party’s power structure as well as anyone with common sense. The hideous hotelier has carved a surprisingly wide niche by promising to “Make America Great (read: ‘White’) Again,” vowing he can magically bring back manufacturing jobs increasingly handled by robots and make coal cool once more. Those scenarios are as likely as the condo salesman actually reading the Bible he keeps his right hand on when campaigning in evangelical bases.

Luce’s very best piece to date on the topic is his new article about a visit he paid to Buchanan County, the Virginia district that gave Donald Trump his biggest victory percentage-wise in America. In the shadows of the Great Smokies, the mines are dead and dying, not only because of regulation intended to constrain climate change but also because a new era has arrived, which has made many dangerously nostalgic. Problem is, yesterday seldom ever returns and if it does you mostly get only the bad parts.

In the county, Luce encounters 22-year-old nonconformist Daniel Justus, who believes Trump is just the latest opioid to be swallowed by the locals, whom he disagrees with vehemently but loves all the same. He also spends time with Tamara Neo, Trump’s most vocal supporter in the community. An excerpt:

Tamara Neo, Trump’s main cheerleader for the region, certainly sees it that way. Every morning she puts her three children into her Range Rover for the 45-minute drive to a private Christian school across the state border in West Virginia. There is too much godlessness in today’s public schools, she believes. As we drive, Tamara tests her children on the Bible. “John 1, verses 16-18,” she barks into her iPhone’s Siri app. The verses appear on screen. “Now say the verse, Axella,” she says to her daughter, who’s in fifth grade. Axella stumbles over it then yawns. “Again,” says Tamara, until she gets it right. She moves on to Io, her eldest: “Exodus 20, Verse 12,” she says. “Go Io.” Next comes Flux. Then she makes them recite Lincoln’s Gettysburg address — all 278 words of it. She does not stop until they get it right.

With children called Io, Axella and Flux, Tamara betrays her western origins. People in Virginia are conservative with names. Tamara and her husband Flux, also a lawyer, moved here from Colorado 10 years ago because they loved the beauty of the Great Smokies. She ran as commonwealth attorney for Buchanan County — an elected position as chief prosecutor for the area. She lost her re-election in 2010 but not before putting scores of people away for prescription drug-dealing. “In a close-knit community like this, a prosecutor quickly prosecutes herself out of a job,” says Tamara. “You know too many people.” Almost never in her four years on the job did she come across cocaine or even meth. “The epidemic is in prescription pills,” she says. “People will do anything to get hold of them.”

Like many of Trump’s evangelical supporters, Tamara does not mind the thrice-married candidate’s lurid tabloid past. After all, Ronald Reagan had been divorced. “Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future,” she says. What most appeals to her about Trump is that he talks without a trace of political correctness. He calls things the way he sees them. Gaffes that would have felled a lesser man — calling illegal Hispanic immigrants “murderers” and “rapists”, for example, or obsessing over supposed slights about the size of his penis — have left Trump unscathed. “He just keeps walking through one fire after another and coming out the other side untouched,” says Tamara. “I take this as a sign.”•

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Cities are pretty much cities throughout history, and tomorrow’s urban centers won’t differ so greatly physically from today’s in the more obvious ways. There will probably be some new infrastructure to try to deal with rising sea levels and occasionally something like phone booths will come and go, but the buildings will still look like buildings. 

The real changes will be more subtle, so quiet you won’t even hear a hum. In the same way driverless cars will carry on “conversations” with one another and all types of gadgets in the cloud, the Internet of Things will allow a city’s skyscrapers and furniture to communicate with its inhabitants and collect endless information about them. Much of that new reality will be beneficial, helping to ease traffic and lower crime, but it will also place all of us inside of a machine with no opt-out button. 

In a Curbed interview conducted by Patrick Sissons, MIT’s Carlo Ratti, author of The City of Tomorrow, discusses smart buildings, among other topics. An excerpt:


One of the topics you discuss in your book is this idea of buildings being more reactive and smart. How interactive will architecture get, and how will it change the look of our cities?

Carlo Ratti:

I think it’ll be very interactive. But overall, the interaction will happen through people;  our lives will change a lot, but public space won’t. A city from Roman times doesn’t look terribly different from a city today. The shift is more about how our human life and interactions in the city will change, not the shapes of buildings. That’s where we’ll see a lot of transformation.


It’s not really as much about infrastructure changes, but how we interact with the infrastructure.

Carlo Ratti:

Yes. The city will talk to us more. We’ll have new buildings, new materials, and more interactive facades, but overall, the key components will remain the same. Buildings are about horizontal floors for living, vertical walls for partitions, facades that protect us from the outside, and windows that give us a view of the outside. They were like that a hundred years ago, and they’ll be there tomorrow and in the future.


What are some great examples of these new types of buildings and architecture?

Carlo Ratti:

The project we did at the World Expo in Zaragoza, Spain, the Digital Water Pavilion, offered a vision of digital, fluid architecture. Think about a park; there are so many things you can do, between interactive lights and more responsive technology. This coming technological change is like the internet. That transformed so many parts of our lives, and the upcoming Internet of Things will do the same to our environment and cities. For instance, the city of Melbourne successfully developed an “internet of trees,” which allows residents to visualize and map urban forests.. It’s a platform, like an open street map for trees, that will help them grow, monitor, and measure, and help people take care of their parks, and compare them against those of other cities.•

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Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens, a book of history and speculation, was my favorite read of 2015. He has a follow-up coming later this year, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, which extends the forecasting element of his last, which was probably the most debated section. The hopeful cover line, “What made us sapiens will make us gods,” is offset by dire predictions that AI and automation will lead to a class of people “useless” politically and economically. Harari thinks solutions will have to be found in policy, something that’s true if even part of his prognostications pan out, but in America we’re currently not great at bipartisan problem solving.

From Ian Sample at the Guardian:

AIs do not need more intelligence than humans to transform the job market. They need only enough to do the task well. And that is not far off, Harari says. “Children alive today will face the consequences. Most of what people learn in school or in college will probably be irrelevant by the time they are 40 or 50. If they want to continue to have a job, and to understand the world, and be relevant to what is happening, people will have to reinvent themselves again and again, and faster and faster.”

Even so, jobless humans are not useless humans. In the US alone, 93 million people do not have jobs, but they are still valued. Harari, it turns out, has a specific definition of useless. “I choose this very upsetting term, useless, to highlight the fact that we are talking about useless from the viewpoint of the economic and political system, not from a moral viewpoint,” he says. Modern political and economic structures were built on humans being useful to the state: most notably as workers and soldiers, Harari argues. With those roles taken on by machines, our political and economic systems will simply stop attaching much value to humans, he argues.

None of this puts us in the realm of the gods. In fact, it leads Harari to even more bleak predictions. Though the people may no longer provide for the state, the state may still provide for them. “What might be far more difficult is to provide people with meaning, a reason to get up in the morning,” Harari says. For those who don’t cheer at the prospect of a post-work world, satisfaction will be a commodity to pay for: our moods and happiness controlled by drugs; our excitement and emotional attachments found not in the world outside, but in immersive VR.

All of which leads to the question: what should we do?•

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In our time, the wrong-minded and dangerous anti-vaccination movement has frustrated efforts to control and eradicate a variety of devastating diseases. Historically there have been numerous flies in the ointment that have similarly inhibited efforts to control contagions, from the rise and fall of religions to global exploration to government malfeasance to economic shifts. An interesting passage on the topic from Annie Sparrow’s New York Review of Book‘s piece on Sonia Shah’s Pandemic: Tracking Contagions, from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond:

Shah describes those conditions in “Filth,” a chapter devoted to human excrement. She attributes the decline in sanitation in the Middle Ages to the rise of Christianity. Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, and Jews all have built hygiene into their daily rituals, but Christianity is remarkable for its lack of prescribed sanitary practices. Jesus didn’t wash his hands before sitting down to the Last Supper, setting a bad example for centuries of followers. Christians wrongly blamed plague on water, leading to bans on bathhouses and steam-rooms. Sharing homes with livestock was normal and dung disposal a low priority. Toilets took the form of buckets or open defecation. The perfume industry, covering the stink, thrived.

During the seventeenth century, these medieval practices were exported to Manhattan, where wells for drinking water were only thirty feet deep, easily contaminated by the nightly dump of human waste. Nineteenth-century New Yorkers tried to make their water palatable by boiling it into tea and coffee, which killed cholera. But the arrival of tens of thousands of immigrants overwhelmed these weak defenses, and the city succumbed to two devastating cholera epidemics.

Corrupt economic gain, a recurrent theme in the history of cholera, is illustrated by the story of how a powerful Manhattan company—the future JPMorgan again—was established by diverting money from public waterworks to 40 Wall Street. This resulted in half a century of unsafe drinking water as the city abandoned plans to pump clean water from the Bronx and substituted well water from lower Manhattan slums. In a more recent case, the 2008 subprime mortgage collapse fostered by JPMorgan Chase and others in the banking industry left thousands of homes abandoned in South Florida. Their swimming pools of stagnant water provided ideal breeding grounds when Aedes mosquitoes arrived in 2009 carrying dengue fever. In part as a result, this tropical disease is now reestablished in Florida and Texas, transmitted by the same mosquito that carries yellow fever, West Nile, and Zika virus.•

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