Monthly Archives: November 2016

How the 24-hour society is stealing time from the night


Rhythms of Life, Author: Leon Kreitzman.
Technics and Civilization, Author: Lewis Mumford.
The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, Author: David Landes.
Night as a Frontier, Author: Murray Melbin.

By Leon Kreitzman – Until the Industrial Revolution, ‘jobs’ as we know them barely existed. People did whatever needed to be done, and then got on with something else.

In the transition from the biblical task-orientation of event time to contemporary clock time, workers were turned into disciplined industrial laborers through an Industrial Revolution that used the clock to organize factory work. Instead of being paid for the task, workers began to be paid for their time. The clock became a measure not only of time but also of money, which put a premium on accuracy.

Lack of time has become a common complaint. For many of us, there are not enough hours in the day to do all the things we want.

There are two easy ways to solve the problem, and one harder way.

First, we could stop watching television. This would free up three to four hours a day for most of us.

Second, we could stop buying so many goods, and more especially services. This would save some time. We would not need shops opening round the clock.

Third, if we purchased less, we would not need to earn as much and so could work fewer hours. We could do all these things, but there is about the same chance of that happening as there is of pigs flying. more>

Are humans evolving beyond the need to tell stories?


Phone, Author: Will Self.
Pride and Prejudice, Author: Jane Austen.
Ulysses, Author: James Joyce.

By Will Self – The neuroscientist Susan Greenfield has been prominent in arguing that our new digital lives are profoundly altering the structure of our brains. This is undoubtedly the case – but then all human activities impact upon the individual brain as they’re happening; this by no means implies a permanent alteration, let alone a heritable one.

After all, so far as we can tell the gross neural anatomy of the human has remained unchanged for hundreds of millennia, while the age of bi-directional digital media only properly dates – in my view – from the inception of wireless broadband in the early 2000s, hardly enough time for natural selection to get to work on the adaptive advantages of … tweeting.

If we take seriously the conclusions of these recent neuroscientific studies, one fact is indisputable: whatever the figures for books sales (either in print or digital form), reading for pleasure has been in serious decline for over a decade.

That this form of narrative absorption (if you’ll forgive the coinage) is closely correlated with high attainment and wellbeing may tell us nothing about the underlying causation, but the studies do demonstrate that the suite of cognitive aptitudes needed to decipher text and turn it into living, breathing, visible and tangible worlds seem to wither away once we stop turning the pages and start goggling at virtual tales. more>

ARPA-Ed: What would it take?

By Saro Mohammed – In short, DARPA is a very well-funded, highly flexible, research and development agency that was created to minimize the red tape that usually slowed defense R&D, while simultaneously maximizing innovation and results. Beyond its funding, which is approximately 377 times greater than the national educational research budget in 2016, DARPA operates under the following unique design principles, outlined in detail at a 2012 national education R&D meeting:

  • Risk: DARPA can take bigger risks than more traditional federally funded R&D projects.
  • Flexible projects: DARPA can choose to fund partial proposals, or projects solely focused on brainstorming or “mindstorming” a problem. In addition, it can fund possible solutions to problems across proposals.
  • Flexible partnerships: DARPA can work with or fund whichever entities it chooses, including private, for-profit, entities, and it can put partners together for projects (including across multiple sectors) that may or may not have applied for funding as partners to begin with.
  • Flexible solutions: DARPA can also fund purchase orders for solutions or products that do not yet exist, and can fund “performance-based” contracts that allow their grantees to retain intellectual property and other proprietary rights to profit after their contractual obligations with DARPA are complete.
  • Flexible timelines: Finally, DARPA can defund, increase funding, or extend project funding at almost any time, and for almost any reason. This allows funding to be quickly ramped up when successes are discovered, and ramped down when projects don’t pan out, taking some of the risk out of very risky bets.

One of the ideas is the possibility of an Advanced Research Projects Agency for Education (ARPA-Ed).

One of the ideas that was discussed was the possibility of an Advanced Research Projects Agency for Education (ARPA-Ed). more>

Is Clear Thinking Morally Superior?

Many of us think so, a new study finds, and that could explain why arguments over science and faith get so heated.
By Nathan Collins – Our traditional founts of moral wisdom, religious institutions, have not always been the strongest supporters of clear, empirically based thought. Just ask Galileo, Darwin, or pretty much any climate scientist.

“Opinions grounded in moral conviction are different from equally strong but amoral opinions, in that they are perceived as ‘oughts’ rather than as personal preferences, and lead to intolerance towards those that are attitudinally dissimilar,” psychologists Tomas Stahl, Maarten Zaal, and Linda Skitka write in PLoS One. “However, it is not only the morally motivated defenders of traditional beliefs that have been characterized as intolerant in these debates.”

“More specifically,” they continue, “we suggest that people can come to view it as a moral virtue to form and evaluate attitudes and beliefs based on logical reasoning and evidence, and to view it as a vice to rely on less rational processes, an inclination we refer to as moralized rationality.” more>

Time To Turn The Page Of Platform Capitalism?

By Wolfgang Kowalsky – Platforms such as Uber, Amazon Mechanical Turk, and Airbnb are very good at making false promises: to make the world a better place, with greater freedom, more flexibility and transparency, and to “democratize” access to goods, services, and mobility. Only in the terms and conditions (T&C) is it laid down that access is not free, but payable with your own data.

Many platforms promise to make the world better, while damaging the environment and working conditions and accelerating the externalization of costs. The gig economy may sound cool, but many of the jobs offer a fast track back to the problems faced by day laborers in the 1850s.

The risk is that platforms make us sleepwalk into an era of long-lasting precarity. Due to globalization, value chains are getting longer and responsibilities should have been prolonged in parallel, but the responsibility chains are shorter than ever.

While the giants extract value from people and nature, externalize costs and dis-empower labor, co-ops could invest in a circular economy and sustainability. While techno giants increase inequality (and profits), co-ops usually cap excessively high incomes – and lay the base for a rebirth of democracy and active participation.

Why not imagine thousands of taxi drivers or flat rental co-ops with a sense of social and environmental responsibility, offering fair wages and working conditions? more>

ITU releases annual global ICT data and ICT Development Index country rankings

ITU – The Measuring the Information Society Report is widely recognized as the repository of the world’s most reliable and impartial global data and analysis on the state of global ICT development and is extensively relied upon by governments, international organizations, development banks and private sector analysts and investors worldwide.

“To bring more people online, it is important to focus on reducing overall socio-economic inequalities,” said ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao. “Education and income levels are strong determinants of whether or not people use the Internet.”

An increasingly ubiquitous, open, fast and content-rich Internet has changed the way many people live, communicate, and do business, delivering great benefits for people, governments, organizations and the private sector. However, many people are still not using the Internet, and many users do not fully benefit from its potential.

  • Most people have access to Internet services but many do not actually use them.
  • The full potential of the Internet remains untapped.
  • Access to the Internet is not enough; policy-makers must address broader socio-economic inequalities and help people acquire the necessary skills to take full advantage of the Internet.
  • Many people still do not own or use a mobile phone.
  • Affordability is the main barrier to mobile-phone ownership.
  • Asia and the Pacific has the lowest average purchasing power parity (PPP) $ price for mobile-cellular services of all regions.
  • Fixed-broadband prices continued to drop significantly in 2015 but remain high – and clearly unaffordable – in a number of LDCs.
  • Mobile-broadband is cheaper and more widely available than fixed-broadband, but still not deployed in the majority of LDCs (Least Developed Countries).

Mobile phone adoption has largely been monitored based on mobile-cellular subscription data since these are widely available and regularly collected and disseminated by regulators and operators.

At the end of 2016, there are almost as many mobile-cellular subscriptions as people on earth and 95% of the global population lives in an area that is covered by a mobile-cellular signal. However, since many people have multiple subscriptions or devices, other metrics need to be produced to accurately assess mobile uptake, such as the number of mobile phone users or mobile phone owners. more>


Updates from GE

The Internet Of Electricity: GE And Exelon Are Crunching Data Generated By Power Plants
'With this big analytics platform, we can continue to improve our operations at our generation facilities,' says Exelon's Brian Hoff. Top image credit: Getty Images
By Dorothy Pomerantz – Every day, Exelon energy company produces up to 32,700 megawatts of electricity that supplies power to millions of customers across the United States. But the Chicago-based company produces more than just power. Its turbines and generators also spin out megabytes of data that different software programs then digest and comb for insights.

“They gather massive amounts of data across their generation fleet to solve complex energy issues, but they needed a single platform to look at these systems at a higher level to further enhance the value of that data,” says Sham Chotai, chief technology officer of GE Power Digital Solutions.

That’s why Exelon and GE Power, the GE division that makes power-generation equipment, decided to collaborate on ways to better leverage data for the benefit of Exelon and its customers. Using Predix, GE’s cloud-based platform for the Industrial Internet, GE Power’s software team started looking for new ways to gather insights from Exelon’s data.

The analytics, in the form of new apps, are designed to help the power company predict when its systems will need repairs, allowing operators to schedule maintenance and ensure parts are maintained in a timely fashion. With the company’s nuclear plants already running at high reliability, Predix helps Exelon further improve efficiency in its power-plant operations. During a pilot of the technology, new optimization algorithms crunching data from Exelon’s wind farms helped boost annual energy production from its wind turbines by 1 to 2 percent, Chotai says. more>

Is globalization’s second wave about to break?

By Laurence Chandy and Brina Seidel – After two decades defined by growing integration, the global economy appears to be at an inflection point. This judgment has been prompted both by structural changes in the global economy, especially since the Great Recession, and political events over the past year illustrative of a backlash against past integration.

The essence of globalization is the movement of goods, money, and people across international borders.

FDI’s (foreign direct investment) rise is a defining component of globalization’s second wave and is synonymous with the growing role of international finance beyond traditional areas such as railways and extractive industries into new sectors including commerce and industry.

Based on our review, the clearest evidence we have of global capital being in retreat is limited to examples of globalization’s excesses being curbed. Elsewhere, the data suggest that the pace of global integration has slowed but not reversed. more>


Globalization’s Last Gasp

By Barry Eichengreen – China’s growth miracle, benefiting a fifth of the earth’s population, is the most important economic event of the last quarter-century. But it can happen only once. And now that the phase of catch-up growth is over for China, this engine of global trade will slow.

The other engine of world trade has been global supply chains. Trade in parts and components has benefited from falling transport costs, reflecting containerization and related advances in logistics. But efficiency in shipping is unlikely to continue to improve faster than efficiency in the production of what is being shipped. Already, motor-vehicle manufacturers ship an automotive transmission back and forth across the US-Mexican border several times in the course of production. At some point, unpacking that production process still further will reach the point of diminishing returns.

So should we worry that trade is growing more slowly? Yes, but only in the sense that a doctor worries when a patient runs a fever. Fever is rarely life-threatening; rather, it is a symptom of an underlying condition. In this case, the condition is slow economic growth, also known as secular stagnation, caused by depressed investment, which in turn reflects financial problems and policy uncertainty. more>

Sustainable Sources of Competitive Advantage

By Morgan Housel – Finding something others can’t do is nearly impossible. Intelligence is not a sustainable source of competitive advantage because the world is full of smart people, and a lot of what used to count as intelligence is now automated.

That leaves doing something others aren’t willing to do as the top source of sustainable competitive advantage.

Here are five big ones.

Having no appetite for being wrong means you’ll only attempt things with high odds of working. And those things tend to be only slight variations on what you’re already doing, which themselves are things that, in a changing world, may soon be obsolete.

Here’s Jeff Bezos again: “If you double the number of experiments you do per year, you’re going to double your inventiveness.”

The key is creating a culture that allows you to fail often without ruin. more>