Category Archives: Media

How the market is betraying advanced economies

The idea that ‘the market’ must be the organizing principle for collective decision-making should be abandoned.
By Diane Coyle – Despite ever-improving conditions for millions of people around the world—documented by entities like the University of Oxford’s Our World in Data and highlighted by scholars like Steven Pinker—popular discontent is on the rise in many places.

The reason is simple: whereas the first trend is being driven by low- and middle-income countries, the second is concentrated in high-income countries.

Throughout the developed world, conditions for many workers are deteriorating, with no recovery in sight. Income inequality is near historic highs, wealth inequality is even higher and economic insecurity is widespread.

As the United Kingdom tears itself apart politically and constitutionally over Brexit, many of its citizens struggle with low-quality jobs, inadequate housing and poverty so severe that they rely on food banks.

France’s yellow-vest protests have been hijacked by violent extremists, but they reflect real grievances about the growing challenge of maintaining living standards.

In the United States, the Economic Report of the President touts the supposed elimination of poverty, but life expectancy does not decline in a prosperous country.

In short, the post-World War II social contract in many of today’s developed economies is breaking down. And even more uncertainty and insecurity are on the way, as new technologies such as artificial intelligence and robotics take root.

Given the depth of the transformation ahead, however, it is not just the policies themselves that must change, but the very framework on which they are based. This means abandoning the idea—which has shaped public policy for more than a generation—that the ‘market’ must be the organizing principle for collective decision-making. more>

Notre Dame

By Natasha Frost, Ephrat Livni, Whet Moser, Jessanne Collins, Adam Pasick and Luiz Romero – Far more than a postcard-ready icon of the city of Paris, the 13th-century building is beloved by people of all faiths, is a trove of art and relics, and has been immortalized in numerous works of literature. It has also been through dramatic ups and downs over the years.

But the reverberations of Monday’s fire spread as quickly as the blaze itself, transcending the physical damage. The blaze revealed fault lines in European politics, flaws in social media’s algorithm-driven fact-checking efforts, the usefulness of drones in firefighting, and just how personally humanity can feel the pain of a cultural tragedy.

In so many people’s imaginations, Paris is not supposed to change. Monuments such as Notre Dame are not supposed to be affected by the passage of time; but neither were the National Museum of Brazil, the treasures of Palmyra, the Glasgow School of Art, nor any other cultural treasures we’ve had snatched from us recently. more>

Updates from Adobe

Bringing Language to Life
By Amy Papaelias – Isabel Lea didn’t expect to fall down the rabbit hole of variable font technology. But since the London-based graphic designer started the Adobe Creative Residency in May 2018, she’s repeatedly found herself at the intersection between technological experimentation and typographic innovation.

If you haven’t spent much time on that particular corner, you may not be familiar with the variable font format. It can reduce web font file sizes and give you loads of typographic variations. (Let’s say you’re unsuccessfully searching for a condensed but slightly bold version of a typeface for a web design. If you choose a variable font, you simply tweak the font’s values using CSS until you get exactly what you’re after.)

However, the possibilities go way beyond the typographically practical, into animation and other areas people are just beginning to explore.

Lea first learned about variable fonts at a two-week intensive type design course at the University of Reading’s Department of Typography. “We had a hands-on workshop where we were looking at variable fonts,” says Lea.

“I thought, ‘Great, you can make a font pulse. Can you make it pulse to something, like music?'” more>

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How digital technology is destroying our freedom

“We’re being steamrolled by our devices” —Douglas Rushkoff
By Sean Illing – There’s a whole genre of literature called “technological utopianism.” It’s an old idea, but it reemerged in the early days of the internet. The core belief is that the world will become happier and freer as science and technology develops.

The role of the internet and social media in everything from the spread of terrorist propaganda to the rise of authoritarianism has dampened much of the enthusiasm about technology, but the spirit of techno-utopianism lives on, especially in places like Silicon Valley.

Douglas Rushkoff, a media theorist at Queens College in New York, is the latest to push back against the notion that technology is driving social progress. His new book, Team Human, argues that digital technology in particular is eroding human freedom and destroying communities.

We’re social creatures, Rushkoff writes in his book, yet we live in a consumer democracy that restricts human connection and stokes “whatever appetites guarantee the greatest profit.” If we want to reestablish a sense of community in this digital world, he argues, we’ll have to become conscious users of our technology — not “passive objects” as we are now.

But what does that mean in practical terms? Technology is everywhere, and we’re all more or less dependent upon it — so how do we escape the pitfalls? more>

Hedge funds assets plunged by $88 billion in 2018

By Matt Egan – The hedge fund industry suffered a brutal 2018 as nervous clients yanked tens of billions of dollars from their portfolios. Hundreds of funds shut down and bets on tech stocks and oil blew up.

Hedge fund assets under management plummeted by $88 billion last year, according to research by eVestment, a firm that provides software to institutional investors. It was easily the deepest decline in assets for the industry since the financial crisis a decade ago, eVestment said in a report published.

Extreme turbulence across financial markets exposed glaring performance issues that have dogged hedge funds for years.

“Investors were again reminded that the industry is not necessarily full of exceptional managers,” wrote Peter Laurelli, eVestment’s global head of research. “There is no disputing the numbers.”

That realization hit a crescendo last month, when the S&P 500 suffered its steepest December decline since the Great Depression.

Jittery clients pulled $19.6 billion out of hedge funds that month alone, lifting annual withdrawals to $35.3 billion, eVestment said. more>

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Hedge funds

Moral technology

Self-driving cars don’t drink and medical AIs are never overtired. Given our obvious flaws, what can humans still do best?
By Paula Boddington – Artificial intelligence (AI) might have the potential to change how we approach tasks, and what we value. If we are using AI to do our thinking for us, employing AI might atrophy our thinking skills.

The AI we have at the moment is narrow AI – it can perform only selected, specific tasks. And even when an AI can perform as well as, or better than, humans at certain tasks, it does not necessarily achieve these results in the same way that humans do. One thing that AI is very good at is sifting through masses of data at great speed.

Using machine learning, an AI that’s been trained with thousands of images can develop the capacity to recognize a photograph of a cat (an important achievement, given the predominance of pictures of cats on the internet). But humans do this very differently. A small child can often recognize a cat after just one example.

Because AI might ‘think’ differently to how humans think, and because of the general tendency to get swept up in its allure, its use could well change how we approach tasks and make decisions. The seductive allure that tends to surround AI in fact represents one of its dangers. Those working in the field despair that almost every article about AI hypes its powers, and even those about banal uses of AI are illustrated with killer robots.

It’s important to remember that AI can take many forms, and be applied in many different ways, so none of this is to argue that using AI will be ‘good’ or ‘bad’. In some cases, AI might nudge us to improve our approach. But in others, it could reduce or atrophy our approach to important issues. It might even skew how we think about values.

We can get used to technology very swiftly. Change-blindness and fast adaptation to technology can mean we’re not fully aware of such cultural and value shifts. more>

Kavanaugh Ethics Complaints Once Again Dodge Ruling In The 10th Circuit

By Steve Denning – The judicial review of multiple ethics complaints against Justice Kavanaugh continued on its Gilbert-And-Sullivan trajectory with a 6-1 decision by the 10th Circuit last Friday that that court does not have jurisdiction to consider the complaints, even though Chief Justice Roberts explicitly requested the 10th  Circuit to assess them.

Some 83 ethics complaints had been filed against Judge Kavanaugh alleging not only false statements under oath during hearings on his nominations to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in 2004 and 2006, but also, more flagrantly, misconduct at the nomination hearing for the U.S. Supreme Court itself in 2018, including making inappropriate partisan statements and treating senators with disrespect.

The complaints were not made without legal basis. More than 2,400 law professors concluded that during the Senate confirmation hearings, Kavanaugh has “displayed a lack of judicial temperament that would be disqualifying for any court.” Unlike the allegations of lying about events that happened many years ago, there was no question of fact as to whether Kavanaugh’s conduct at the Senate hearings actually took place: it was visible for the whole country to see on national television.

Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens also stated that Judge Kavanaugh has demonstrated bias and is “not fit for the Supreme Court.” Former Justice Stevens, in remarks to retirees in Boca Raton, Fla, declared that Kavanaugh’s statements on September 27 revealed prejudices that would make it impossible for him to do the court’s work. “They suggest that he has demonstrated a potential bias involving enough potential litigants before the court that he would not be able to perform his full responsibilities.” more>

Updates from Chicago Booth

Raghuram G. Rajan says capitalism’s future lies in stronger communities
By Raghuram G. Rajan – You have a new book out called The Third Pillar. What is the third pillar?

It is the community. Around the world, there is widespread economic anxiety, domestic political tension, strife between countries, and now talk of a cold war reemerging between the United States and China. Why?

I argue that every time there’s a big technological revolution, it upsets the balance in society between three pillars: the political structure—that is, government or the state; the economic structure—that is, markets and firms; and the sociological, human structure—that is, communities.

When that balance is upset, we see anxiety and conflict, a signal that we’re striving for a new balance.

To really understand capitalism’s success, one has to understand the important role of the community. As it voices its concerns through democracy, the community is critical to maintaining the balance between the state and markets. When the community is appropriately motivated and engaged, it enables liberal market societies to flourish.

Recently, some communities have been weakened significantly while others have sped ahead. Technological change is creating a new meritocracy, but one that is turning out to be largely hereditary, denying opportunities to many. The many, in economically disadvantaged and thus socially dysfunctional communities, could turn their backs on markets. The consequent imbalances could undermine liberal democratic society. more>

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To end poverty, think like a spy

By Paul M. Bisca – For anyone working to end poverty, fragile states call for the ultimate juggling act. Countries in conflict seldom control their territories, and even when most areas are at peace, others may still be engulfed by violence for decades to come.

The intensity of civil wars can ebb and flow, while forcibly displaced people cross borders in search of shelter. Politicians and warlords can shift alliances abruptly and neighboring states often interfere militarily to prop up local proteges.

When geopolitics is not at play, internal disputes over land, water, or other scarce resources can ignite fighting between local populations. To make sense of all these moving parts, even the most knowledgeable experts must look for new ways to comprehend the world.

What can be done?

To better manage the unknown, development professionals might want to take a leaf from the intelligence community book and draw inspiration from how spies try to predict the future. Reduced to its simplest terms, the CIA defines intelligence as “knowledge and foreknowledge of the world around us—the prelude to decisions by policymakers.”

Other definitions emphasize the collection, processing, integration, analysis, and interpretation of available information from closed and open sources.

Development practitioners are not spies, nor should they aspire to be. Further, the idea that project managers and economists should behave like spies is bound to raise eyebrows for professionals driven by the quest for sustainability and equity.

Yet, the methodology of intelligence is well-suited to paint in our minds the interplay of actions, information, and analysis needed to navigate the complex, uncertain, and downright dangerous environments where extreme poverty stubbornly persists.

This approach is not about acting like James Bond, but rather about thinking like him. more>

How Politics Delayed A Boeing Fix And Endangered Public Safety

By Steve Denning – This is an abrupt change for the Trump administration.

Just last night, the Acting Administrator of the FAA, Daniel K. Elwell, had doubled down on keeping the Boeing 737 MAX 8 in the air, stating that his agency’s extensive review of “aggregate safety performance from operators and pilots of the Boeing 737 MAX… shows no systemic performance issues and provides no basis to order grounding the aircraft.” Boeing’s CEO, Dennis Muilenburg, after a call with President Trump, had also declared his complete faith in the plane’s safety.

Trust in a crisis depends on truth-telling—something the current administration is not renowned for, with almost 10,000 false or misleading statements from the president alone.

In this case, the FAA statement last night did not disclose that five pilots had already raised serious concerns about the 737 MAX 8 in the federal database where pilots can voluntarily report about aviation incidents without fear of repercussions.

Instead, the FAA statement said, “Other nations’ civil-aviation authorities had not provided data to us that would warrant action.” Yet Elwell didn’t have to look to foreign civil aviation authorities for such evidence. There was such evidence, right here at home, as reported in the Dallas Morning News.

The FAA statement also did not disclose that Boeing had already issued an emergency airworthiness directive about the Boeing 737 Max 8 in response to the crash of Lion Air Flight 610 in Indonesia. The directive “was prompted by analysis performed by the manufacturer showing that if an erroneously high single angle of attack (AOA) sensor input is received by the flight control system, there is a potential for repeated nose-down trim commands of the horizontal stabilizer.”

Nor did the FAA statement disclose that Boeing and the FAA had been working together for some months to deal with the possibility that the Indonesia crash was caused by a malfunction of its stabilization system.

While it is reassuring the U.S. has finally taken action to ground the Boeing 737 MAX 8 and MAX 9, the sequence of events points to institutional issues in aviation safety generally. more>