Urban Studies

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I seldom refer to articles from CNN, Jeff Zucker’s golden shower of sorta news, but I will in the case of a new piece, “The Future of War Will Be Robotic,” published on the cable channel’s site by Peter W. Singer, whose work I greatly admire. Singer–not the famed ethicist but the author of Wired for Warpoints out one of the most important and overlooked stories of the calamity of the Iraq War: the technologizing of the American military machine, which has ramifications overseas and on the homefront. And the U.S. isn’t alone in this arms race in which the limbs are bionic. Singer’s opening:

The rise of the robot on the modern battlefield has happened so fast, it is almost breathtaking — that is, if you are not a robot yourself.

When the U.S. military invaded Iraq just over a decade ago, it only had a handful of unmanned systems, aka drones, in the air, and zero deployed into the ground forces. Today, its inventory in the air numbers well over 7,000, ranging from the now famous Predator and Reaper to the Navy’s new MQ-8 Fire Scout, a helicopter drone that just completed a series of autonomous takeoffs and landing tests from the back of a guided-missile destroyer.

On the ground, the inventory numbers some 12,000, ranging from iRobot’s PackBots, used to search for roadside bombs in Afghanistan, to the U.S. Marine Corps Warfighting Lab’s tests with Qinetiq’s Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System, a tracked robot that mounts cameras and a machine gun.

This revolution is by no means just an American one. At least 87 other countries have used military robotics of some sort, ranging from the UK to China, which has an especially fast-growing drone fleet, as shown off at its recent arms trade show.

A number of nonstate actors have added robots to their wares as well, including most recently both sides of the Syrian civil war, as well as ISIS. Both sides in the Ukraine conflict are also using them.

These robots, though, are just the start. If this was 100 years ago, they would be the equivalent of the Bristol TB 8, the first bomber plane, or the Mark I, the first tank used in battle. A host of changes awaits us. Their size, shape and form will move in wild and, for many, quite scary new directions.•


In a CBS San Francisco piece, Silicon Valley futurist Zack Canter goes all in on autonomous cars, predicting not only that they will somewhat disrupt private ownership in the near term but that driverless ridesharing will be to individual ownership as the Model T was to the horse and buggy, essentially eliminating it in anything but insignificant numbers.

Well, first things first: The final, difficult elements of the robocar process have to be figured out, everything from object recognition to poor-climate handling. Should that occur, then, yes, taxis with human drivers will be a thing of the past, and those jobs will go away for good. The article’s PricewaterhouseCoopers prognostication that “the number of vehicles on the road will be reduced by 99%” is something none of us alive right now will ever live to see. An excerpt:

A Columbia University study suggested that with a fleet of just 9,000 autonomous cars, Uber could replace every taxi cab in New York City13 – passengers would wait an average of 36 seconds for a ride that costs about $0.50 per mile.14 Such convenience and low cost will make car ownership inconceivable, and autonomous, on-demand taxis – the ‘transportation cloud’ – will quickly become dominant form of transportation – displacing far more than just car ownership, it will take the majority of users away from public transportation as well. With their $41 billion valuation,15 replacing all 171,000 taxis16  in the United States is well within the realm of feasibility – at a cost of $25,000 per car, the rollout would cost a mere $4.3 billion.


The effects of the autonomous car movement will be staggering. PricewaterhouseCoopers predicts that the number of vehicles on the road will be reduced by 99%, estimating that the fleet will fall from 245 million to just 2.4 million vehicles.17

Disruptive innovation does not take kindly to entrenched competitors – like Blockbuster, Barnes and Noble, Polaroid, and dozens more like them, it is unlikely that major automakers like General Motors, Ford, and Toyota will survive the leap. They are geared to produce millions of cars in dozens of different varieties to cater to individual taste and have far too much overhead to sustain such a dramatic decrease in sales. I think that most will be bankrupt by 2030, while startup automakers like Tesla will thrive on a smaller number of fleet sales to operators like Uber by offering standardized models with fewer options.•


Paranormal things

Hi. The reason I’m here is that i had a extranormal event in my house. I didn’t hear something but i saw something. I don’t drink and i don’t do drugs. At the beginning my roommate told me his bedroom was too cold, and for some reason i made all the reparations. However he told me that during the night someone touched his leg. I didn’t believe him. Last night when i was in bed for no reason i heard steps and somebody knocked the door of my bedroom.

If someone can help me, I will be open to hear you.

Ninety-one years ago, when some scientists believed there could be life on Mars that was not completely unlike that on Earth, a plethora of plans were hatched to begin a dialogue of sorts between the planets when they were to move a scant 36 million miles from one another. The Navy Lieutenant-Commander Fitzhugh Green, whose work in this area is referenced in the below article from the July 7, 1924 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, was later incarcerated due to his opiate addiction. The three stills above are from Aelita: Queen of Mars, the Soviet sci-film released that same year.


You could argue that Tunisia’s uprising was the match that lit the Middle East, as some struggles reverberate beyond their borders because they speak to a widespread dissatisfaction. The Paris Commune was viewed this way by outsiders during the late 1800s. Via the lovely Delancey Place, a passage from James Green’s Death in the Haymarket about the American interpretation of the French uprising:

When the French army laid siege to Paris and hostilities began, the Chicago Tribune’s reporters covered the fighting much as they had during the American Civil War. Many Americans, notably Republican leaders like Senator Charles Sumner, identified with the citizens of Paris who were fighting to create their own republic against the forces of a corrupt regime whose leaders had surrendered abjectly to the Iron Duke and his Prussian forces.

As the crisis deepened, however, American newspapers increasingly portrayed the Parisians as communists who confiscated property and as atheists who closed churches. The brave citizens of Paris, first described as rugged democrats and true republicans, now seemed more akin to the uncivilized elements that threatened America — the ‘savage tribes’ of Indians on the plains and the ‘dangerous classes’ of tramps and criminals in the cities. When the Commune’s defenses broke down on May 21, 1871, the Chicago Tribune hailed the breach of the city walls. Comparing the Communards to the Comanches who raided the Texas frontier, its editors urged the ‘mowing down’ of rebellious Parisians ‘without compunction or hesitation.’

La semaine sanglante — the week of blood — had begun as regular army troops took the city street by street, executing citizen soldiers of the Parisian National Guard as soon as they surrendered. In retaliation, the Communards killed scores of hostages and burned large sections of the city to the ground. By the time the killing ended, at least 25,000 Parisians, including many unarmed citizens, had been slaughtered by French army troops.

These cataclysmic events in France struck Americans as amazing and distressing. The bloody disaster cried out for explanation. In response, a flood of interpretations appeared in the months following the civil war in France. Major illustrated weeklies published lurid drawings of Paris scenes, of buildings gutted by fire, monuments toppled, churches destroyed and citizens executed, including one showing the death of a ‘petroleuse’ — a red-capped, bare-breasted woman accused of incendiary acts. Cartoonist Thomas Nast drew a picture of what the Commune would look like in an American city. Instant histories were produced, along with dime novels, short stories, poems and then, later in the fall, theatricals and artistic representations in the form of panoramas.

News of the Commune seemed exotic to most Americans, but some commentators wondered if a phenomenon like this could appear in one of their great cities, such as New York or Chicago, where vast hordes of poor immigrants held mysterious views of America and harbored subversive elements in their midst.•


“Labor savings” sounds great except if you’re part of the Labor part being “saved.” Then you’re heading to the margins of the economy, perhaps in search of a giant mustache that you can affix to your automobile. The Boston Consulting Group, which I disagree with somewhat about the near-term future of autonomous cars, believes Weak AI, and the technological unemployment it will bring, is at an inflection point. It’s great in the aggregate but maybe not so much for you. Yet you wouldn’t want your nation to be left behind, either. An excerpt from the Robotics Business Review about which countries BCG thinks will own the sector:

Five nations will take the lead

“The biggest gains in labor savings,” says the BCG report,  “will occur in nations that are at the forefront of deploying industrial robots, such as South Korea, China, the U.S., Japan, and Germany.

“Manufacturing labor costs in 2025, when adjusted for normal inflationary increases and net of other productivity measures, are projected to be 18 to 33 percent lower in these economies when advanced robots are factored in.

“In China, one of the world’s largest markets for robots, greater use of automation could compensate for a significant part of the loss in cost competitiveness that is expected to result from rapidly rising factory wages and the growing challenge of finding manufacturing workers.

“Economies where robotics investment is projected to lag—and where low productivity growth is already a problem—are likely to see their manufacturing competitiveness deteriorate further over the next decade. Such nations include France, Italy, Belgium, and Brazil.”•

In “How to Live Forever,” a lively New Yorker blog post, Tim Wu considers whether the self would continue should we eventually be able to upload our consciousness into a computer. No, we certainly wouldn’t remain in the same sense. Of course, we never remain the same. If we were somehow able to live indefinitely, we’d be markedly different as time went by. Even within our current relatively puny lifespans, great changes occur within us and the through line we tell ourselves exists may be just a narrative trick. But I grant that some sort of container-based consciousness makes for a more radical departure than merely the depredations of time. From the second the changeover occurs, life, or something like it, is altered. From Wu:

Some people don’t consider that a problem. After all, if a copy thinks it is you, perhaps that would be good enough. David Chalmers, a philosopher at the Australian National University, points out that we lose consciousness every night when we go to sleep. When we regain it, we think nothing of it. “Each waking is really like a new dawn that’s a bit like the commencement of a new person,” Chalmers has said. “That’s good enough…. And if that’s so, then reconstructive uploading will also be good enough.”

If the self has no meaning, its death has less significance; if the computer thinks it’s you, then maybe it really is. The philosopher Derek Parfit captures this idea when he says that “my death will break the more direct relations between my present experiences and future experiences, but it will not break various other relations. This is all there is to the fact that there will be no one living who will be me.”

I suspect, however, that most people seeking immortality rather strongly believe that they have a self, which is why they are willing to spend so much money to keep it alive. They wouldn’t be satisfied knowing that their brains keep on living without them, like a clone. This is the self-preserving, or selfish, version of everlasting life, in which we seek to be absolutely sure that immortality preserves a sense of ourselves, operating from a particular point of view.

The fact that we cannot agree on whether our sense of self would survive copying is a reminder that our general understanding of consciousness and self-awareness is incredibly weak and limited. Scientists can’t define it, and philosophers struggle, too. Giulio Tononi, a theorist based at the University of Wisconsin, defines consciousness simply as “what fades when we fall into dreamless sleep.” In recent years, he and other scientists, like Christof Koch, at Caltech, have made progress in understanding when consciousness arises, namely from massive complexity and linkages between different parts of the brain. “To be conscious,” Koch has written, “you need to be a single, integrated entity with a large repertoire of highly differentiated states.” That is pretty abstract. And it still gives us little to no sense of what it would mean to transfer ourselves to some other vessel.

With just an uploaded brain and no body, would you even be conscious in a meaningful sense?•


In contrast to the new Economist report which argues that Silicon Valley carmakers will lose the race to traditional ones in creating the vehicle of tomorrow, automotive analyst Marc Winteroff contends, in Phil LeBeau’s CNBC post, that much of Big Auto will disappear once robocars are perfected. The opening:

Marc Winterhoff sees the great auto shake out coming over the next 15-20 years. That’s when self-driving, or autonomous drive, vehicles will take off, according to the head of the automotive practice for the business strategy firm Roland Berger.

“When we start to see critical mass with autonomous drive vehicles, there will be clear winners and losers in the auto industry,” said Winterhoff. “The losers will include the mass market auto brands.”

In a new study looking at the future of mobility and how we’ll transport ourselves in the future, Winterhoff sees a surge in demand for vehicles that offer a premium experience, like Mercedes-Benz or BMW.

He also expects tech firms like Google and Apple to be big winners because they can offer vehicles or branded models where we can take our “connected lives” into our cars in ways we may not be able to imagine right now.•

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Emily Nussbaum, the New Yorker TV critic, is as good as it gets, a dynamite writer and thinker. The latest example is “Last Girl in Larchmont,” a postmortem of Joan Rivers and her singular (and sometimes disquieting) brand of feminism. It’s a perfect bookend to Jay Ruttenberg’s 2007 late-life Heeb portrait of the comic as she was climbing to the top one last time, hoping for a final hurrah which indeed arrived. From Nussbaum’s piece:

Onstage and on TV, she had a girl-next-door cuteness, a daffiness and a vulnerability, that lent a sting to her observations: if this nice Barnard coed, in her black dress and pearls, saw herself as a hideous loser, clearly the game was rigged.

As the rare female New Comedian, Rivers’s persona also hit a nerve, playing as it did off a contemporary slur, the Jewish American Princess. In 1959, Norman Mailer had published a notorious short story, “The Time of Her Time,” in which a bullfighter gives a Jewish college girl her first orgasm by means of sodomy and the phrase “dirty little Jew”; the same year, Philip Roth published “Goodbye, Columbus,” with its iconic Princess, Brenda Patimkin. In 1971, Julie Baumgold wrote a cover story for New York, at once disdainful and sympathetic, called “The Persistence of the Jewish American Princess,” portraying the type as a spoiled girl who wouldn’t cook or clean. Obsessively groomed, the JAP has been crippled by her mother, who refuses to let her daughter call herself ugly. She’s “the soul of daytime drama,” waiting for a rich man to save her: “Clops and blows come from Above, but still she expects. It isn’t mere hope; it is her due.”

Rivers took that sexist bogeywoman and made it her own, raging at society from inside the stereotype: she was the Princess who did nothing but call herself ugly. She vomited that news out, mockingly, yearningly, with a shrug or with a finger pointed at the audience. “Arf, arf,” she’d bark, joking that a rapist had asked if they could just be friends. A woman I know used to sneak into the TV room, after her parents fell asleep, for the illicit thrill of seeing another woman call herself flat-chested. If Rivers’s act wasn’t explicitly feminist, it was radical in its own way: she was like a person trapped in a prison, shouting escape routes from her cell.•

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From the May 26, 1904 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Chicago — Miss Eloise Reusse of St. Paul, Minn., who became insane here while undergoing the ordeal of the so called “Sun Worship Feast,” is dead at the state hospital for the insane at Elgin. Dr. Frank S. Whitman, superintendent of the hospital, says death was due to acute mania induced by starvation.

During the fast, which is said to have lasted forty-one days, the deceased is said by the hospital authorities to have been subjected to torture by means of needles and application of lotus oil.•

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At the beginning of 1970, directly following the Apollo 11 moon landing, Life published Rudi Gernreich’s predictions about the future of fashion. He foresaw a harsh landscape of environmental damage, overpopulation and traffic-clogged highways, all of which would inform designers who would create unisex protective garb made of alternative fabrics. While his fashion prognostications weren’t accurate, embedded in Gernreich’s ideas are some prescient remarks about technological innovations. An excerpt:

In cold, wintry weather, predicts Gernreich, “both men and women will wear heavy-ribbed leotards and waterproof boots. It will be impossible to drive to stores because of traffic, so all clothes will be ordered from a catalogue or TV set. And since animals which now supply wool, fur and leather will be so rare that they must be protected, and weaving fabric such as cotton will be too much trouble, most clothes will be made entirely of cheap and disposable synthetic knits.”

Clothing will not be identified as either male or female, says Gernreich. “So women will wear pants and men will wear skirts interchangeably. And since there won’t be any squeamishness about nudity, see-through clothes will only be see-through for reasons of comfort. Weather permitting, both sexes will go about bare-chested, though women will wear simple protective pasties. Jewelry will exist only as a utility–that is, to hold something up or together, like a belt or for information, like a combination wristwatch, weather indicator, compass and radio. The esthetics are going to involve the body itself. We will train the body to grow beautifully rather than cover it to produce beauty.

The present cult of eternal youth is not honest nor attractive, says Gernreich. “In an era when the body will become the convention of fashion, the old will adopt a uniform of their own. If a body can longer be accentuated, it should be abstracted. The young won’t wear prints but the elderly will because bold prints detract. The elderly will have a cult of their own and the embarrassment of old age will fade away.”•



NYU psychologist Gary Marcus is one of the talking heads interviewed for this CBS Sunday Morning report about the future of robots and co-bots and such. He speaks to the mismeasure of the Turing Test, the current mediocrity of human-computer communications and the potential perils of Strong AI. To his comment about the company dominating AI winning the Internet, I really doubt any one company will be dominant across most or even many categories. Quite a few will own a piece, and there’ll be no overall blowout victory, though there are vast riches to be had in even small margins. View here.

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As is their wont, technologists would like driverless cars on the road yesterday, but traditional automakers would rather ease into the sector with assisted-driving functions introduced gradually. A new Economist report is bearish on Silicon Valley’s chances of becoming kings of the road even should the industry go electric and autonomous, citing the nouveau carmakers’ lack of infrastructure (in both manufacturing and corporate) in dealing with many problems inherent to the business. I think the piece’s prediction from Boston Consulting that “cars with even limited self-driving features will never exceed 25% of sales” will only be true if they’re eclipsed by fully autonomous models before surpassing that number. Otherwise most models will probably soon have numerous robocar features at the disposal of human drivers. An excerpt:

The head of Google’s autonomous-car project, Chris Urmson, nevertheless argues that the conventional carmakers’ incremental approach will slow them down, and that a leap straight into fully self-driving vehicles will pay off quicker. However, even if he is proved right in terms of developing the technology, there are two other big barriers to overcome: regulatory approval, and drivers’ nervousness at ceding control entirely to a computer.

Carmakers have had to become adept at handling mountains of regulations and fending off liability lawsuits. These will be huge issues when any self-driving car is involved in an accident—which they will be, even if less frequently than ones driven by humans. Slowly feeding in autonomy may be a better way of convincing road users and legislators of the technology’s benefits. In a pessimistic forecast, the Boston Consulting Group reckons demand for cars with even limited self-driving features will never exceed 25% of sales, and fully autonomous ones will account for just 10% of sales by 2035 (see chart 2).

Perhaps technology firms can accelerate the future of the car. But whatever happens, this is a difficult business to break into. Google would like the carmakers it hopes eventually to supplant to help seal their doom by building its vehicles under contract. Unsurprisingly, none seems too keen on this. Apple’s cash pile of $178 billion is more than enough to set up a carmaking division and tool up its factories. But the technology firms have no manufacturing culture, and the skills needed to market, distribute and provide after-sales service for cars is unlike anything they are used to.•


Some people prep for hurricanes, earthquakes and rising sea levels, and it’s easy to understand their trepidation, while others are ready for more outré existential threats: imminent civilization collapse, religious end-of-days and zombie apocalypse. Both types convene at the National Preppers and Survivalists Expo in Lakeland, Florida. From Nicky Woolf’s Guardian report about the gathering of the God-fearing and the gun-toting: 

Chris refuses to tell me his last name. But he did he have opinions to share, beginning with Obama, who is apparently an augur of doom known as The Leopard.

“This is going to be as a result of Wormwood [an angel],” he barks in a thick Long Island accent. “Planet X. 3,357 years ago, it came about. How do you think the Mayan cities and the Pyramids under the Antarctic they just found ended up underwater? Because of Wormwood. Now Wormwood is coming again, we’re gonna get more water, less landmass, and then the fire that God said in the Bible – a solar storm.”

I nod, ticking off a conspiracy theory bingo card in my head.

“If Obama is indeed The Leopard,” Chris continues, ignoring the glazed look in my eyes, “then in the murals – the giant pictures in the Denver airport, have you ever seen that, with the murals with the leopard?” I nod vaguely.

He continues, shifting up through the conspiratorial gears with admirable rapidity. The Illuminati. The Rapture. The All-Seeing eye. Nostradamus. Aliens. Chemtrails. Tick, tick, tick.

I am interrupted from an almost trance-like state by his unorthodox but amusing pronunciation of Fukushima as “Fushushima” and decide that the conversation has gone far enough off-piste, so I ask him about the bug-out team. There are 12 of them, he tells me, plus families; retired law enforcement or military.

Standing uncomfortably close behind me, listening with rapt attention, is Darren Smith, who looks a bit like a movie star; he has the breezy air of the wealthy. He tells me he has already bugged-out – to Belize. There, he and his closed ones are almost completely sustainable, with 10,000 fruit trees, herds of goats, sheep and chickens. Nice, I think.

But Chris seizes on the opportunity to criticise. “Belize? Oh, no no no,” he says, rolling his eyes. “The south Pacific? No, you gotta be at the highest elevations. Colorado will be the highest.”

The news that Colorado would be a good place to go brings Smith to a stop. “But you gotta be out of America, right?” he says. “No, no,” says Chris. “Denver, Wyoming, New Mexico.” Smith looks discomfited.

Before we part, Smith tells me that economically, the western world’s about to fail. “It’s just a cyclical thing.” He says he’s not worried about bogeymen or anything, but says that when the economic system collapses, it could be decades before it’s rebuilt. He’s quite convincing.•

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Richard Waters’ new Financial Times piece anticipates a landscape of powerful digital assistants which don’t only respond to our thoughts but also do the thinking for us, making choices based on…who knows? What’s objectively best for us? Who “bribes” the next-level Siris to win our business? There’s plenty of room for abuse should apps no longer stand alone and erstwhile human decisions become disappeared into the 0s and 1s. The opening:

How smart do you want your smartphone to be? In designing Cortana, the voice-activated “virtual assistant” built into its mobile software, Microsoft is betting that most people are not yet ready to hand too much control of their lives to an artificial brain.

A soft-voiced presence with a slightly sassy attitude drawn from a video game character, Cortana is quite capable of reading your email to see if you have a flight coming up, then using the information to tell you when it is time to leave for the airport.

But Microsoft will not let “her” take the liberty. Instead, the system asks permission, like a discreet human assistant who does not want to assume too much — a step that also helps to confirm the software is on the right track in anticipating your wishes.

“At the moment it’s progressive intelligence, not autonomous intelligence,” says Marcus Ash, group program manager for Cortana, which is enabled on phones with the Windows operating system, including Microsoft’s Lumia devices. People do not want to be surprised by how much their phones are starting to take over, he says: “We made an explicit decision to be a little less ‘magical’ and a little more transparent.”

Niceties like this could soon be a thing of the past. The race is on between some of the biggest tech companies to come up with omniscient guides capable of filtering the complex digital world .

Like the browser wars of the 1990s, the outcome will help to set the balance of power in the next phase of the internet. By channelling attention and making decisions on behalf of their users, virtual assistants will have enormous power to make or break many other businesses. Many companies — from carmakers to entertainment concerns — aim to develop voice-powered assistants of their own to keep their customers loyal. But the future may belong instead to a handful of all-knowing assistants, much as Google’s search engine managed to suck in so many of the world’s queries on the web.

Though it has not reached the point of mass adoption yet, the potential of this new form of artificial intelligence has all the tech companies scrambling.•

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From the February 17, 1940 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

New Martinsville, W. Va. — Crying continually, Mrs. Okey Long, 16, a “child bride” four years ago, pleaded today that she didn’t know a shotgun was loaded when she grabbed it in anger and killed her 27-year-old husband. 

Sheriff Frank Berger said that the shooting occurred at a snowbound farm home 23 miles from here as Long returned to find his wife aroused over his long absence to get medicine for a sick cow.•

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Eventually the Big Bang goes bust, the Earth becomes uninhabitable and then eventually the air goes out of the whole tire that is the universe. The finitude galls me. You? A post at The Conversation has Complex System Simulation lecturer James Dyke answering questions about resources and the lack thereof. An excerpt:


If the world has a finite amount of natural resources, and these resources have been diminishing steadily since the industrial revolution, how is the model of infinite economic growth possibly expected to continue? Doesn’t it have to end eventually?

James Dyke:

This is a good question, however I think it’s possibly something of a red herring. That is, we don’t have to worry too much about ultimate or absolute limits to growth. What we need to worry about is how we move towards such limits from where we are right now.

We have an increasingly narrow space within which to operate, to organise ourselves on Earth. Essentially, we have seriously eroded our choices.


Do you agree that it is already too late to prevent global catastrophe caused by global warming?

James Dyke:

No. There is nothing physically insurmountable about the challenges we face. I think it’s very important to continually stress that. Yes, in about a billion years time the increase in the size of the sun will mean the death of the biosphere. We have plenty to play for until then.

Sometimes people talk about social transitions. For example in the UK, drunk driving and smoking in pubs/bars. It’s become the norm to do neither and that happened quite quickly. It always seems impossible before it is done.


Best estimate. How long do we have to spend all our savings before this hits?

James Dyke:

I find it hard to be optimistic about the welfare of some people around the middle to the end of this century if we continue as we are. If we maintain business as usual with regards carbon emissions, biodiversity loss, biogeochemical inputs (we keep exceeding planetary boundaries) then I find it hard to see how our current connected, distributed, industrialised civilisation can function in the way it currently does.

There is no natural law, no physical principle which means the tremendous increases in wellbeing, industrial output, wealth etc observed over the past 300 years have to continue. Consider the broader historical context and you realise we live in extraordinary times. But we have become habituated to this and simply expect the future to resemble the past – and that includes future rates of change.

What largely keeps our current civilisation aloft is fossil fuel use and an unsustainable consumption of natural capital (sometimes discussed in the context of ecosystem services). There are end points for both of these and these end points are decades not centuries away.•


Robots can’t do all the work in graying Japan, not yet anyway, so a staunchly homogenous country is turning to immigration at least as a bridge to an automated workforce, which isn’t sitting well with some conservative voices, one of which recently suggested an embrace of Apartheid for a model of living with “others.” From an Economist report:

THE Sankei Shimbun, a Japanese daily, has a reputation for illiberal commentary. Last week it outdid itself by running a column that lauded the segregation of races in apartheid-era South Africa—and urged Japan to do the same. Ayako Sono, a conservative columnist, said that if her country had to lower its drawbridge to immigrants, then they should be made to live apart. “It is next to impossible to attain an understanding of foreigners by living alongside them,” she wrote. 

Ms Sono’s views got an airing as the government of Shinzo Abe, the prime minister, appears set to promote immigration in all but name. They caused a stir in South Africa, whose ambassador to Japan called them “scandalous”. In Japan, however, the reaction has been oddly muted. The media scarcely picked up on the ambassador’s letter. The Sankei initially greeted criticism with bemusement. It then issued a pro-forma reply defending its right to run different opinions.  

Japan’s government is considering allowing 200,000 foreigners a year to come to Japan to help to solve a deepening demographic crisis and shortage of workers. The population fell by nearly a quarter of a million in 2013. An advisory body to Mr Abe says that immigrants could help stabilise the population at around 100m, from a current 127m. Not since the ancestors of Japan’s current inhabitants arrived in the islands from Korea two millennia ago has there been an example of immigration on the scale of that proposed.

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I was working as an editor at a magazine during Andy Samberg’s first year at SNL, and I’m still annoyed that I wasn’t allowed to run an interview with him like I wanted to in the weeks after the “Lazy Sunday” video he did with Parns had made Youtube into a sensation. I was already familiar with the Lonely Island stuff (The ‘Bu, especially), and I could see where those guys were going to take the show. I asked a talented friend who’s a music and comedy writer to conduct the Q&A, but when I pitched the story in a meeting, I was told this by another editor who had the power to nix such a piece: “I’ve seen Samberg on stage and he isn’t funny.” Oy gevalt!

Youtube, of course, has done much more than humor, finding a place in its decade of existence in major world events, a big piece of the puzzle that has undercut traditional media. It’s been a sword with two edges: Some of that has been great and some of it has been ISIS recruitment. I don’t think it would matter at all if Youtube disappeared today–there would just be other outlets to do the job–but it was the first to civilize (to a certain extent) the wild landscape of visual media on the Internet. And it still regularly amazes me. From Matt Schiavenza at the Atlantic

YouTube videos have played a significant role in many major world events. In Iran, footage of the death of Neda Soltan, a young protester, went viral and accelerated the country’s anti-government demonstrations in 2009. More recently, the Islamic State has relied on Internet videos for propaganda purposes. Earlier this month, ISIS released a film showing Muadh al-Kasasbeh, a Jordanian pilot held hostage by the group, burning to death in a cage. The video sparked widespread outrage in Jordan, whose government promptly vowed retaliation. Online video did not create terrorism—but it reduced the barriers to entry for groups like ISIS to broadcast their message.

“Extremists don’t need a middleman anymore,” wrote Jeffrey Goldberg in the Atlantic last December. “Journalists have been replaced by YouTube.”

The meteoric rise of YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter has bolstered the dreams of idealists who want to use technology to solve the world’s problems, a point of view frequently skewered by skeptics like writer Evgeny Morozov. While YouTube’s spread has allowed people to see the world from more points of view, the powers of democratized video can only go so far in pushing along change.•

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Life Partner/Business Partner – $200000 (NYC)

This request is probably the most unique request you will find, but I figure I give it a try. This is only for the serious minded, big thinker, and those who desire or are used to earning a high income.

I’m a single female looking to establish my Commercial Capital business. I have access to Private Lenders who can fund businesses, whether it’s Hard Money Loans/Traditional Business Loans/Merchant Cash Advance. I’m hoping to find someone to help me generate leads for these financial services and at the same time, we can establish a friendship etc. Someone who is great at Marketing (whether it’s Google, Classified or Telemarketing) would be a great candidate. Together we can earn a substantial amount of income $200,000-$500,000 first year. If you are ready to create a beautiful life with a beautiful soul, contact me.

"If you are ready to create a beautiful life."

“If you are ready to create a beautiful life…”

A highly automated society needs coders until there is a critical mass of code and then the machines can take over. Whither will the high-tech worker go? From Victoria Stilwell at Bloomberg:

Have you ever worried that robots would one day be the ruin of humanity? According to a newly published paper, you might not be too far off base. 

Four researchers from Boston University and Columbia University simulated an economy featuring two types of workers – high-tech employees who produce new software code, and low-tech workers who produce human services (people such as artists, priests, psychologists and the like). 

At first, high demand for code-writing high-tech employees increases their wages. However, over time, the amount of legacy code grows. As this happens, and as some smart machines become better able to learn tasks, writing new code becomes redundant, the authors state.

Demand for code-writing high-tech workers then becomes limited to those who are needed for general code maintenance like updates and repairs. The rest of the high-tech workers end up going into the service sector, which consequently pushes down wages for employees in that industry. And lower incomes reduce the amount of goods and services that workers are able to buy.

While there can be several of these so-called “boom-bust” tech cycles, over time robots “can leave all future high-tech workers and, potentially, all future low-tech workers worse off,” the paper states. “In short, when smart machines replace people, they eventually bite the hands of those that finance them.”•

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Artist/urban philosopher Liam Young, working with sci-fi writers, has created a trio of dystopian, futuristic cities, including one that exaggerates–somewhat–the intrusion of corporations on metropolitan life, an avenue Ray Bradbury earnestly suggested we pursue in the 1990s. From Shaunacy Ferro at Fast Company, Young’s description of his moving-yet-static vision of “Samsung City”:

“The Samsung city is based on this strange condition in Korea where Samsung, the tech company, had moved into property development,” Young explains, describing a series of Samsung-branded tower blocks that got him thinking about the fact that Apple has revenues comparable to the GDPs of some nations. “What would happen if we started to form brand and nationalistic allegiances to tech companies in the same way we do in countries?”•

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From the September 23, 1895 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Dr. Edward W. Burnette, a New York physician, has died from cancer of the face, contracted from a patient whom he had treated.•


Oy pioneers! Mars One, which is really unlikely to begin establishing a human colony on our neighboring planet in the next ten years, has just chosen 100 finalists who hope to die on another planet (perhaps sooner than later). One of the “lucky” potential astronauts, Hannah Earnshaw, a UK Ph.D. student who seems like a swell and idealistic person, writes at The Conversation about what will hopefully be a voyage of self-discovery rather than an actual voyage. An excerpt:

When I applied for Mars One, I applied to dedicate my life to the creation of a colony that will have enormous implications for the future of the human race. It’s in many ways a monumental responsibility, a life’s work much bigger than myself, and one for which I feel no qualms about the fact that it’s journey from which there’s no coming back.

I feel very aware of the dreams of all those people who wished to travel in to space, to colonise other planets – and I do so on their behalf, as well as for myself. I want to have lived my life doing something that wasn’t only what I wanted to do, but something that will have a lasting impact on our collective future.

I’m 23, and the past couple of years have been uncertain: stepping through the application for Mars One, even though I’ve made the shortlist of 100 I’m still unsure whether I’ll be selected. Hoping that I am suitable, but ultimately wanting the very best and most capable people to go, I have had to hold two possible futures in my mind.

In one, I complete my PhD, get a place of my own, pursue a career in research or maybe in politics. I get really good at playing piano, I find time to travel to Norway, Italy, Canada, and Japan, and maybe find a husband or wife.

In the other, I leave behind the possibilities of Earth for the possibilities of Mars. Alongside my crew I pioneer planetary scientific research and, as the founding member of a new civilisation, I plant the seeds of a diverse and generous society. I communicate our life to followers on Earth, help establish new policy through which humans explore and settle the stars ethically and responsibly… and maybe find a husband or wife.

Both futures hold so much potential that there will be a real sense of loss when I know which path I am on, but also a real sense of purpose.•


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