Daily Archives: March 2, 2018

Tech Vs. Democracy

By Guy Verhofstadt – In an age when most people get their news from social media, mafia states have had little trouble censoring social-media content that their leaders deem harmful to their interests. But for liberal democracies, regulating social media is not so straightforward, because it requires governments to strike a balance between competing principles.

After all, social-media platforms not only play a crucial role as conduits for the free flow of information; they have also faced strong criticism for failing to police illegal or abusive content, particularly hate speech and extremist propaganda.

These failings have prompted action from many European governments and the European Union itself. The EU has now issued guidelines for Internet companies, and has threatened to follow up with formal legislation if companies do not comply. As Robert Hannigan, the former director of the British intelligence agency GCHQ, recently observed, the window for tech companies to reform themselves voluntarily is quickly closing.

In fact, Germany has already enacted a law that will impose severe fines on platforms that do not remove illegal user content in a timely fashion. more>

How capitalism without growth could build a more stable economy

By Adam Barrett – On a finite planet, endless economic growth is impossible. There is also plenty of evidence that in the developed world, a continued increase of GDP does not increase happiness.

Back in 1930 the economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that growth would end within a century – but he was unclear whether a post-growth capitalism was really possible.

Today, mainstream economic thinking still considers growth to be a vital policy objective – essential to the health of a capitalist economy. There remains a concern that ultimately, a capitalist economy will collapse without growth.

I recently published new research that suggests a different view – that a post-growth economy could actually be more stable and even bring higher wages. It begins with an acceptance that capitalism is unstable and prone to crisis even during a period of strong and stable growth – as the great financial crash of 2007-08 demonstrated.

I found that an end to growth reduces profits for business owners.

Therefore, if it remains relatively easy for money to flow across borders, then investors might abandon a post-growth country for a fast-growing developing country. Also, businesses are beholden to shareholders keen on growth as a means to rapid profit accumulation.

Some mainstream commentators and economists are now predicting a transition to a post-growth era, whatever our environmental policy – which means the study of post-growth economics is a field which itself will grow. more>

Updates from Georgia Tech

Robot Monitors Chicken Houses and Retrieves Eggs
By John Toon – “Today’s challenge is to teach a robot how to move in environments that have dynamic, unpredictable obstacles, such as chickens,” said Colin Usher, a research scientist in GTRI’s Food Processing Technology Division.

“When busy farmers must spend time in chicken houses, they are losing money and opportunities elsewhere on the farm. In addition, there is a labor shortage when it comes to finding workers to carry out manual tasks such as picking up floor eggs and simply monitoring the flocks. If a robot could successfully operate autonomously in a chicken house 24 hours a day and seven days a week, it could then pick up floor eggs, monitor machinery, and check on birds, among other things. By assigning one robot to each chicken house, we could also greatly reduce the potential for introductions of disease or cross-contamination from one house to other houses.”

The autonomous robot is outfitted with an ultrasonic localization system similar to GPS but more suited to an indoor environment where GPS might not be available. This system uses low-cost, ultrasonic beacons indicating the robot’s orientation and its location in a chicken house. The robot also carries a commercially available time-of-flight camera, which provides three-dimensional (3D) depth data by emitting light signals and then measuring how long they take to return. The localization and 3D data together allow the robot’s software to devise navigation plans around chickens to perform tasks. more>

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A Government That Looks Like Trump

By Robert Schlesinger – Trump’s personal pilot and his son-in-law-cum-senior adviser, Jared Kushner which bloomed brightly before being eclipsed; they serve as a reminder of the number, degree and reach of the ethical challenges and possible corruption which has become the background music in front of which the other Trump dramas unfold.

We have to a depressing extent become benumbed to the fact that we are living in an age aptly dubbed one of “American kakistrocracy” (government by the worst of us), in part because of its pervasiveness and almost mind-boggling scope.

So it’s useful to periodically step back and catalogue the extent to which Trumpism is corrupting our governance. The Washington Post reported last month that 9 of 22 of Trump’s initial picks for Cabinet-level jobs, 40 percent, “have found themselves facing scrutiny over their actions.” While the examples below range from unseemly to potentially illegal they bespeak a cavalier attitude towards government ethics and taxpayer dollars that is illustrative of the Trump era in America.

Another aspect of the Trumpian corrosion of our governmental standards is the death of qualifications as a prerequisite for high public service. Trump of course was, on paper, the least-prepared of any president in history. Naturally he views this as a plus.

So reports that Trump is considering nominating John Dunkin, his long-time personal pilot, to head the Federal Aviation Administration, should not surprise at this point. “My pilot, he’s a smart guy, and he knows what’s going on,” Trump told airline executives last year.

Well there you go; he sounds like a perfect fit for the top job in the $16 billion, 47,000-employee agency. Somewhere George W. Bush and Harriet Miers are having a good chuckle. more>