Category Archives: History

The future of the open internet — and our way of life — is in your hands

By Quincy Larson – So far, the story of the internet has followed the same tragic narrative that’s befallen other information technologies over the past 160 years:

  • the telegram
  • the telephone
  • cinema
  • radio
  • television

Each of these had roughly the same story arc:

  1. Inventors discovered the technology.
  2. Hobbyists pioneered the applications of that technology, and popularized it.
  3. Corporations took notice. They commercialized the technology, refined it, and scaled it.
  4. Once the corporations were powerful enough, they tricked the government into helping them lock the technology down. They installed themselves as “natural monopolies.”
  5. After a long period of stagnation, a new technology emerged to disrupt the old one. Sometimes this would dislodging the old monopoly. But sometimes it would only further solidify them.

And right now, we’re in step 4 the open internet’s narrative. We’re surrounded by monopolies.

The problem is that we’ve been in step 4 for decades now. And there’s no step 5 in sight. The creative destruction that the Economist Joseph Schumpeter first observed in the early 1900s has yet to materialize. more> https://goo.gl/dFd7MK

The body is the missing link for truly intelligent machines

BOOK REVIEW

Basin and Range, Author: John McPhee.
Descartes’ Error, Author: Antonio Damasio.

By Ben Medlock – Things took a wrong turn at the beginning of modern AI, back in the 1950s. Computer scientists decided to try to imitate conscious reasoning by building logical systems based on symbols. The method involves associating real-world entities with digital codes to create virtual models of the environment, which could then be projected back onto the world itself.

In later decades, as computing power grew, researchers switched to using statistics to extract patterns from massive quantities of data. These methods are often referred to as ‘machine learning’. Rather than trying to encode high-level knowledge and logical reasoning, machine learning employs a bottom-up approach in which algorithms discern relationships by repeating tasks, such as classifying the visual objects in images or transcribing recorded speech into text.

But algorithms are a long way from being able to think like us. The biggest distinction lies in our evolved biology, and how that biology processes information. Humans are made up of trillions of eukaryotic cells, which first appeared in the fossil record around 2.5 billion years ago. A human cell is a remarkable piece of networked machinery that has about the same number of components as a modern jumbo jet – all of which arose out of a longstanding, embedded encounter with the natural world.

We only have the world as it is revealed to us, which is rooted in our evolved, embodied needs as an organism. Nature ‘has built the apparatus of rationality not just on top of the apparatus of biological regulation, but also from it and with it’,

In other words, we think with our whole body, not just with the brain. more> https://goo.gl/oBgkRF

From bedroom to boardroom, Supreme Court is in your business

By Nancy Benac – The influence of the court’s nine justices is hard to overstate. So pay attention as Congress prepares to take up the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to join the high court.

From the time Americans roll out of bed in the morning until they turn in, the court’s rulings are woven into daily life in ways large and small.

“From the air you breathe and the water you drink to the roof over your head and the person across from you in bed, the Supreme Court touches all of that,” says Elizabeth Wydra, president of the Constitutional Accountability Center.

A walk through daily life on the lookout for Supreme Court fingerprints … more> https://goo.gl/ykUXDt

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The dangers of ultra-long-term bonds

By Judd Gregg – The dollar is the key to world commerce. It is used by most nations as their reserve currency. It is essentially other countries’ insurance against their governments pursuing profligate fiscal policy.

This fact would possibly make the sale of 50- or 100-year U.S. bonds acceptable in the world market. But it should also give us significant pause.

If we want our currency to be the reserve currency of choice around the world, then we need that currency to be respected.

If we start issuing general obligation bonds that have 50- or 100-year terms, we will inevitably call into question the long-term integrity of our nation’s fiscal house. Financing current expenses for 5, 10 or even 30 years may be an accepted practice, but to go out 50 or 100 years is not. more> https://goo.gl/t5bjEg

There’s a Green Card-holder at the heart of Greek philosophy

By David V Johnson – A state that, without due process, simply ignores the rights and obligations it has extended to that legal resident makes a serious breach of its moral authority and the rule of law.

This is why the state’s treatment of its non-citizen legal residents – its visa-holders and permanent resident aliens – can say as much about its health as its treatment of citizens.

The idea that the non-citizen resident is crucial to diagnosing the state’s health is evident in Plato’s Republic.

In the course of the Republic‘s 10 books, Socrates offers a considered analysis of justice and the ideally just state. It can be simplified to one principle: justice is reason ruling.

When rationality rules in government, the state is just. Similarly, when rationality governs the emotions and desires of the soul, a person is just.

When reason fails to rule, whether in the state or the person, injustice obtains. more> https://goo.gl/oTURh3

The Ghost Bosses

By Brian Alexander – Lancaster’s decline wasn’t the result of some sort of natural and inevitable evolution of technology, like the demise of the buggy-whip industry, nor of the pressures of free trade and offshoring, as intense as those have been.

It is the culmination of a series of decisions over a period of roughly 35 years. As one former CEO of EveryWare Global told me, “It’s not about making the product. It’s about making money appear and the 99 percent doesn’t understand that.”

The Plant 1 employees certainly don’t. They only know that the old social contract has disintegrated and that nothing has come to take its place.

Back in 1984, A. Bartlett Giammatti, who was then the president of Yale University, and who would later become the commissioner of Major League Baseball, warned that the tide of deal-making and the financialization of the economy could lead to disillusionment and drift as “the impulse to private gain has nothing to connect itself to except itself.” more> https://goo.gl/pdCRz1

A Brief History of the Grand Unified Theory of Physics

By Lawrence M. Krauss – Each time we peel back one layer of reality, other layers beckon. So each important new development in science generally leaves us with more questions than answers. But it also usually leaves us with at least the outline of a road map to help us begin to seek answers to those questions.

The successful discovery of the Higgs particle, and with it the validation of the existence of an invisible background Higgs field throughout space (in the quantum world, every particle like the Higgs is associated with a field), was a profound validation of the bold scientific developments of the 20th century.

As elegant as this idea might be, it is essentially an ad hoc addition to the Standard Model of physics—which explains three of the four known forces of nature, and how these forces interact with matter. It is added to the theory to do what is required to accurately model the world of our experience. But it is not required by the theory. The universe could have happily existed with massless particles and a long-range weak force (which, along with the strong force, gravity, and electromagnetism, make up the four known forces). We would just not be here to ask about them. Moreover, the detailed physics of the Higgs is undetermined within the Standard Model alone. The Higgs could have been 20 times heavier, or 100 times lighter.

Why, then, does the Higgs exist at all? And why does it have the mass it does? (Recognizing that whenever scientists ask “Why?” we really mean “How?”) If the Higgs did not exist, the world we see would not exist, but surely that is not an explanation. Or is it? Ultimately to understand the underlying physics behind the Higgs is to understand how we came to exist. When we ask, “Why are we here?,” at a fundamental level we may as well be asking, “Why is the Higgs here?” more> https://goo.gl/UCn3w8

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No easy answers: why left-wing economics is not the answer to right-wing populism

By Zack Beauchamp – Since World War II, Western European politics has been structured by the ideals of social democracy. From Germany to France to Sweden to Italy, every nation adopted some version of the basic social democratic vision — a mixed-market economy defined by both private property and deep government involvement, with high levels of taxation and sometimes stifling government regulation of the private sector, in exchange for a generous social welfare system that offers things like universal health care and free or heavily subsidized education.

By most measures, though, Europe’s social and economic programs provide their citizens with better standards of living than can be found in the US. That, however, hasn’t kept the parties that advocate and defend those policies most vigorously from steadily losing votes.

The American welfare state has always been weaker than its counterparts around the West. Correspondingly, you see the highest rates of inequality in the developed world, with 3 million American children living on less than $2 a day and a health care system that ranks dead last in the respected Commonwealth Fund’s measures of performance among 11 developed countries.

The uncomfortable truth is that America’s lack of a European-style welfare state hurts a lot of white Americans. But a large number of white voters believe that social spending programs mostly benefit nonwhites. As such, they oppose them with far more fervor than any similar voting bloc in Europe. more> https://goo.gl/nfAZ7s

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The century of American global domination of language is over

BOOK REVIEW

That’s the Way it Crumbles—The Americanization of British English, Author: Matthew Engel.

(glasbergen.com)By Cassie Werber – While some argue that the infiltration of American English is constantly speeding up, Lynne Murphy, a reader in linguistics at the University of Sussex, says that in fact the great era of American English as the language of the world was the 20th century, and it’s over.

“American culture (and words) could easily spread in the 20th century because it was hard to produce and distribute recorded entertainment, but the US had the capacity and the economy and the marketing savvy to do so,” Murphy wrote in a recent blog.

What’s changed in the 21st century, she suggests, is that the internet has re-formed our relationship with media, making audiences less purely receptive, and more able to seek out the content that interests them. Ultimately, she argues, there’s more “exchange of words between people, rather than just reception of words from the media.”

Now, Britain is seeing “a huge torrent” of language from the US, and being constantly changed by it. more> https://goo.gl/L84Ikg

Adequate Housing: Global Financial Institutions Hold the World to Ransom

By Aisha Maniar – Global real estate is valued at around USD 217 trillion, representing 60% of all global assets.

At a recent press conference, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing, Leilani Farha, stated that “Residential real estate is valued at $USD 163 trillion or more than twice the world’s total GDP.” She added, “Imagine if that capacity was harnessed for the realization of the right to housing instead of speculation and profit.’

In presenting a new hard-hitting report on 1 March, which “focuses on the “financialization of housing” and its impact on human rights”, Farha stated that “Housing has lost its currency as a human right” and “has been financialized: valued as a commodity rather than a human dwelling.”

The housing crisis, which “has not often been considered from the standpoint of human rights,” is global.

Many Western governments have adopted a “let them eat cake” response to the crisis. Rather than address the question of affordable and adequate housing, governments have acquiesced to market forces, with the governments of the UK and Ireland, for example, seeing a solution in building more private homes, to the benefit of developers, even though many properties lie empty in both states.

The Australian government continues to grant tax concessions to developers. more> https://goo.gl/5vYwcy