FUTURE FACTS - FROM THINK LINKS
DID YOU KNOW THAT--
- China has already gene-edited 86 people with CRISPR.
- According to a new study, a startling 97% of children tested were found to have plastic byproducts inside their bodies.
- The drone attacks in Saudi Arabia have changed the nature of global warfare.
- The US-China trade war has set in motion an unstoppable global economic transformation.
by John L. Petersen
ROBERT DAVID STEELE COMING TO BERKELEY SPRINGS
Well known analyst, critic and internet personality, former Presidential candidate (and former spy), Robert David Steele is coming to TransitioniTalks on Saturday, the 19th of October. Robert is one of the biggest thinkers around who has proposed sweeping, structural changes to how the US political system, intelligence community, White House and US economy should be fundamentally reorganized – ideas that have resulted in his being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, among many other accolades. Additionally, no one has reviewed more nonfiction books on Amazon than he has (almost 2600 now), and that great, broad input has given him a unique, sophisticated understanding of how the world really works.
I asked Robert what five books, out of all that he had read, had most disrupted this worldview – shaken the assumptions that he (and we all, by the way), had assumed, extracted from his careers and education and then built his life upon– and would he come and tell us about those big, life-changing ideas . . . and what we might do about it. This is particularly important in a world where it is increasingly hard to know what to believe.
So, he’s coming in October to put these extraordinary concepts on the table and then open to an extended Q&A session to allow all in attendance to learn as much as they can about the full spectrum of what we’re up against. Watch this short video interview to find out more:
Robert David Steele and John L. Petersen
What Robert has to say is really quite important . . . for a number of reasons.
- First of all, we are entering a period of seven or eight years that, by all indications, has the potential of generating some of the greatest, most chaotic, change in the recorded history of the planet – nothing less than that. In the face of that kind of upheaval, the first, and perhaps most important, imperative is to have a sophisticated understanding of what we all are playing with here – not just what we have been told.
- Secondly, I’ve started reading the books that Robert felt were so disruptive . . . and I’ve been blown away. These are credible, though clearly out of the box, ideas that I had never heard of . . . and that have now fundamentally changed how I look at things. These concepts are VERY important to any enlightened perspective of what is happening in this world and where we all may – or may not – be going.
- Thirdly, what Robert will be presenting is a critical component of your being effective and appropriately positioned to adjust to the coming changes. This is about a paradigm shift – a fundamental rewiring of how we make sense of the reality we experience. If you aren’t able to adjust and adapt, you’ll get surprised. You’ll be out of time and options . . . and certainly not prepared. Some of these ideas are so different from what we’ve been told that they clearly represent a possible new framework for understanding the emerging new world.
So, let me strongly encourage you to come to this presentation. This is an important part of becoming prepared for this extraordinary transition event that we are about to experience.
You can find complete information at TransitionTalks.org.
GREGG BRADEN POSTSCRIPT VIDEOS
We had a wonderful time with Gregg Braden in August. He spoke all day long to a full house of almost 250 people. Before his presentation he and I sat down for a conversation in our PostScript series of interviews. Here they are. Enjoy!
Gregg Braden and John L. Petersen -- Part 1
Gregg Braden and John L. Petersen -- Part 2
Free Book Offer
Our friends at The Fetzer Memorial Trust would like to give you a free hard-cover copy of the book “John E. Fetzer and the Quest for The New Age” by Brian Wilson, Ph. D.
John E. Fetzer, was a pioneer in the broadcast industry, owner of the World Series Detroit Tigers, advisor to two presidents and one of America's 400 most wealthy individuals. Driven by a deep spiritual quest and interest in scientific exploration he is a true inspiration.
I found this biography of John Fetzer most interesting. Here was a titan of industry who had another life that was involved in helping to fund and enable a great deal of research in the metaphysical area and who set up a major foundation that continues to explore the leading edge of our reality.
The Fetzer Institute has always had a very impressive, big outlook on this world and what was possible and I’m pleased that they are making this hardcover book available at no cost to FUTUREdition subscribers.
I certainly would encourage you to take advantage of this offer. -- JLP
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Your book will be mailed to you free of charge. This is truly a free gift from The Fetzer Memorial Trust. The only mail you will receive from them, will be this book. You will not be added to a mailing list.
Our e-Magazine has complete information on our TransitionTalks series with articles from past speakers |
Gregg Braden, Joe Dispenza & Bruce Lipton:
Why We Need Guidelines for Brain Scan Data – (Wired – September 17, 2019)
Your brain is a lot like your DNA. It is, arguably, everything that makes you uniquely you. Some types of brain scans are a lot like DNA tests. They may reveal what diseases you have (Parkinson’s, certainly; depression-possibly), what happened in your past (drug abuse, probably; trauma, maybe), or even what your future may hold (Alzheimer’s, likely; response to treatment, hopefully). Many people are aware—and properly protective—of the vast stores of information contained in their DNA. Fewer people are aware of the similarly vast amounts of information in a brain scan, and even fewer are taking steps to protect it. For example, fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) analysis techniques are getting so powerful that the networks can be used like a fingerprint. Some uses of brain imaging lie in an ethical gray area. They foretell behaviors and conditions that could be stigmatizing or harmful. They generate information that an individual may wish to keep private or at least manage. In the right circumstance, the information may even be of great interest to the police or the court system. My colleagues and I are scientists who use brain imaging (PET and fMRI) to study neuropsychiatric diseases. Based on our knowledge of the technologies we probably ought to be concerned. And yet, it is rare that we discuss the ethical implications of brain imaging. Nevertheless, by looking closely, we can observe parallel trends in science and science policy that are refining the quality of information that can be extracted from a brain scan, and expanding who will have access to it. This article explores more specific possible misuses of such data and discusses how guidelines might begin to be created.
An AI Learned to Play Hide-and-seek. The Strategies It Came Up with on Its Own Were Astounding. – (Vox – September 20, 2019)
The leading AI lab, OpenAI, recently released their latest project: an AI that can play hide-and-seek. It’s the latest example of how, with current machine learning techniques, a very simple setup can produce shockingly sophisticated results. The AI agents play a very simple version of the game, where the “seekers” get points whenever the “hiders” are in their field of view. The “hiders” get a little time at the start to set up a hiding place and get points when they’ve successfully hidden themselves; both sides can move objects around the playing field (like blocks, walls, and ramps) for an advantage. Over the course of 481 million games of hide-and-seek, the AI seemed to develop strategies and counterstrategies, and the AI agents moved from running around at random to coordinating with their allies to make complicated strategies work. (Along the way, they showed off their ability to break the game physics in unexpected ways, too; more on that later in the article.) It’s the latest example of how much can be done with a simple AI technique called reinforcement learning, where AI systems get “rewards” for desired behavior and are set loose to learn, over millions of games, the best way to maximize their rewards. However, there is a hazardous flip side of techniques like reinforcement learning. On the one hand, they’re powerful techniques that can produce advanced behavior from a simple starting point. On the other hand, they’re powerful techniques that can produce unexpected — and sometimes undesired — advanced behavior from a simple starting point.
Newfound Cosmic 'Gateway' Funnels Small, Icy Objects to the Inner Solar System – (Live Science – September 23, 2019)
Beginning as small, icy bodies on the outskirts of the solar system, comets turn into spectacular streaks of light when they pass through a "gateway" near Jupiter, according to new research. This gateway is a region of space where objects called centaurs — small, icy bodies that orbit between Jupiter and Neptune — start to nudge closer to the sun. As they do so, they heat up and become “active,” primarily releasing a dusty halo of gas — which makes these small bodies, technically, comets. "We realized there's a nexus point in orbital space where small bodies change their orbit that we nicknamed 'the gateway,'" said lead author Gal Sarid, a planetary scientist at the University of Central Florida. The gateway region is like a donut that wraps around the inner solar system, containing many possible orbits within its thick ring. Sarid and his team first came up with the gateway idea after looking at a peculiar centaur named 29P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 1 or SWI. Though technically a centaur, SWI is very active, regularly releasing gases like a comet does, Sarid said. The researchers then modeled other such small, icy bodies in the outskirts of the solar system, and found that many of them took the same path that SWI did — originating beyond Neptune, moving into an erratic orbit between Jupiter and Neptune, and then to this gateway region. In fact, the scientists found that one in five centaurs that they analyzed entered a similar orbit as SW1 at one point in time. But this isn't a one-way journey. The researchers' models show that Jupiter family comets also sometimes move back into the gateway region, trekking away from the sun. The data showed that 70% of Jupiter family comets spend time in the gateway region, either moving in toward the inner solar system or moving out to the outskirts. "They can go back and forth like a revolving door," Sarid said.
Planet Earth Makes Its Own Water from Scratch Deep in the Mantle – (New Scientist – January 27, 2017)
Our planet may be blue from the inside out. Earth’s huge store of water might have originated via chemical reactions in the mantle, rather than arriving from space through collisions with ice-rich comets. This new water may be under such pressure that it can trigger earthquakes hundreds of kilometers below Earth’s surface – tremors whose origins have so far remained unexplained. Planet Earth makes its own water from scratch deep in the mantle. That’s the upshot of a computer simulation of reactions in Earth’s upper mantle between liquid hydrogen and quartz, the most common and stable form of silica in this part of the planet. “This is one way water can form on Earth,” says team member John Tse at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada. “We show it’s possible to have water forming in Earth’s natural environment, rather than being of extraterrestrial origin.” The simple reaction takes place at about 1400 °C and pressures 20,000 times higher than atmospheric pressure as silica, or silicon dioxide, reacts with liquid hydrogen to form liquid water and silicon hydride. But in a surprise twist, the simulation showed that the water forms within quartz but then can’t escape and so the pressure builds up. “The hydrogen fluid diffuses through the quartz layer, but ends up forming water not at the surface, but in the bulk of the mineral,” says Tse. “We analyzed the density and structure of the trapped water, and found that it is highly pressurized.” According to the simulation, the pressure could reach as much as 200,000 atmospheres. “We observed the water to be at high pressure, which might lead to the possibility of induced earthquakes,” says Tse. The quakes could be triggered as the water finally escapes from the crystals. “However, further research is needed to quantify the amount of released water needed for triggering deep earthquakes,” says Tse. The findings may also inform how our planet got its water to start with. Studies over the past few years have found evidence of several oceans’ worth of water locked up in rock, as far down as 1000 kilometers, questioning the assumption that water arrived from space after Earth’s formation.
GENETICS / HEALTH TECHNOLOGY / BIOTECHNOLOGY
Genetically Modified Mosquitoes Are Breeding in Brazil, Despite Biotech Firm's Assurances to the Contrary – (GizModo – September 16, 2019)
The deliberate release of 450,000 transgenic mosquitoes in Jacobina, Brazil has resulted in the unintended genetic contamination of the local population of mosquitoes, according to new research. Going into the experimental trial, the British biotech company running the project, Oxitec, assured the public that this wouldn’t happen. Consequently, the incident is raising concerns about the safety of this and similar experiments and our apparent inability to accurately predict the outcomes. The point of the experiment was to curb the spread of mosquito-borne diseases, such as yellow fever, dengue, chikungunya, and Zika, in the region. To that end, Oxitec turned to OX513A—a proprietary, transgenically modified version of the Aedes aegypti mosquito. To create its mutated mosquito, Oxitec took a lab-grown strain originally sourced from Cuba and genetically mixed it with a strain from Mexico. The key feature of these bioengineered mosquitoes is a dominant lethal gene that (supposedly) results in infertile offspring, known as the F1 generation. By releasing the OX513A mosquitoes into the wild, Oxitec hoped to reduce the population of mosquitoes in the area by 90 percent, while at the same time not affecting the genetic integrity of the target population. The OX513A strain is also equipped with a fluorescent protein gene, allowing for the easy identification of F1 offspring. Starting in 2013, and for a period of 27 consecutive months, Oxitec released nearly half a million OX513A males into the wild in Jacobina. A Yale research team led by ecologist and evolutionary biologist Jeffrey Powell monitored the progress of this experiment to assess whether the newly introduced mosquitoes were affecting the genes of the target population. Despite Oxitec’s assurances to the contrary, Powell and his colleagues uncovered evidence showing that genetic material from OX513A did in fact trickle to the natural population. That genetic material from OX513A has bled into the native species does not pose any known health risks to the residents of Jacobina, but it is the “unanticipated outcome that is concerning,” said Powell. Indeed, lab tests conducted by Oxitec prior to the experiment suggested that around 3 to 4 percent of F1 offspring would survive into adulthood, but it was presumed these lingering mosquitoes would be too weak to reproduce, rendering them infertile. These predictions, as the new research shows, were wrong.
China Has Already Gene-Edited 86 People with CRISPR – (GizModo – January 22, 2018)
So far in China (as of the date of this article), at least 86 people have had their genes edited, and there is evidence of at least 11 Chinese clinical trials using CRISPR. China’s rapid advancement is the result of more relaxed regulations, and a willingness to forge ahead with cutting-edge research despite potential unknowns and safety concerns, which are significant. One recent paper, for example, suggested that CRISPR could trigger an immune response in a majority of patients, which could render potential treatments either ineffective or dangerous. China’s rapid-fire approach has set off a biomedical duel between the U.S. and China, and sparked concerns among Western scientists that the Chinese trials have been irresponsibly premature. In China’s 2015 CRISPR trial, the WSJ reports, 36 patients with cancers of the kidney, lung, liver and throat had cells removed from their bodies, altered with CRISPR, and then infused back into their bodies to fight the cancer. Other Chinese trials have sought to use CRISPR to treat HIV, esophaegeal cancer, and leukemia. See also: Report: Scientists in China Are Losing Track of Gene-Edited CRISPR Patients
The End of Aging – (Mashable – September 19, 2019)
Harvard's genetics genius says we can live past 120 with supplements and lifestyle tweaks. Prepare to meet your future descendants. “By the turn of the next century, a person who is 122 on the day of his or her death may be said to have lived a full, though not particularly long, life. We will look back with sadness on the time in our history in which it was not so.” The Harvard professor’s name is David Sinclair, award-winning scientist and author of the new book Lifespan: Why We Age and Why We Don’t Have To. He is currently 50 and hopes to live to see 2100, at which point he will be 132. Most of Sinclair’s awards were for figuring out the aging mechanism in yeast, but he has also expanded the lives of laboratory mice. In one of his favorite experiments, a geriatric mouse ran nonstop for so long that it broke the lab treadmill, which wasn’t built to go more than 3 kilometers — an ultramarathon for rodents. So when Sinclair says that “aging is easier to cure than cancer” — and that if we cure aging, we will minimize cancer’s harm — it’s worth listening.
People with Higher Optimism More Likely to Live Exceptionally Long Lives – (Medical News Today – August 27, 2019)
"While research has identified many risk factors for diseases and premature death," says first and corresponding author Lewina O. Lee, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine, "we know relatively less about positive psychosocial factors that can promote healthy aging." She and her colleagues defined optimism as the "general expectation that good things will happen or the belief that the future will be favorable because one can control important outcomes." They suggest that because it may be possible to alter optimism using relatively straightforward therapeutic techniques, their findings have strong implications for public health. When the researchers analyzed the data, they found that the females and males with the highest levels of optimism at the start of follow-up lived on average 11–15% longer than those with the lowest levels of optimism. In addition, the females and males with the highest levels of optimism had a 50–70% greater likelihood of living until their 85th birthday and beyond. The team found that the correlations held even when they adjusted the results to account for the effects of age, educational achievement, persistent diseases, depression, physical activity, diet, use of alcohol, smoking, and visits to the doctor. See also: Open-Minded People Have a Different Visual Perception of Reality.
Experiments Show an Electrical Zap Improves Memory in Older Adults – (Canadian Broadcasting Radio – May 10, 2019)
Two complementary studies recently found that noninvasive and extremely mild brain stimulation could be used to improve episodic and working memory in older adults. "We can make these 60 and 70-year-olds look strikingly like our 20-year-old participants," said researcher Robert Reinhart. The first study used a technique called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to induce mild neural firing in the brain. The researchers hoped this stimulation would increase communication between the hippocampus, the region deep within the brain that's critically responsible for episodic or long-term memory, and the cortical network connected to the hippocampus on the outer surface of the brain. Joel Voss, an associate professor in the Department of Neurology at Northwestern University, led the 15-person pilot study which looked at adults between the age of 64 and 82 with typical memory deficits. In part this was because these areas on the outer part of the brain were ones their TMS system could accurately target. The second study, led by Robert Reinhart from the Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences at Boston University, used electroencephalography, or EEG, to uncover evidence that older adults' brain waves were out-of-sync in critical brain regions used by working memory or short-term memory. Reinhart then tried to ameliorate the problem by using a precise and customizable electrical stimulation technology called "high definition transcranial alternating current stimulation," or HD-tACS for short. This system can deliver tiny currents at specific frequencies to re-sync the out-of-sync brainwaves in the temporal cortex, and between the temporal cortex and prefrontal cortex. In both studies, memory improvements were noted after the treatments. Both Voss and Reinhart believe additional experiments trying out different stimulation parameters and extending the treatment course, could lead to more potent and long-lasting memory improvements. Article includes links to both original publication sources.
Insect 'Apocalypse' in U.S. Driven by 50x Increase in Toxic Pesticides – (National Geographic – August 6, 2019)
America’s agricultural landscape is now 48 times more toxic to honeybees, and likely other insects, than it was 25 years ago, almost entirely due to widespread use of so-called neonicotinoid pesticides, according to a new study published in the journal PLOS One. This enormous rise in toxicity matches the sharp declines in bees, butterflies, and other pollinators as well as birds, says co-author Kendra Klein. Using a new tool that measures toxicity to honey bees, the length of time a pesticide remains toxic, and the amount used in a year, Klein and researchers from three other institutions determined that the new generation of pesticides has made agriculture far more toxic to insects. Honey bees are used as a proxy for all insects. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency does the same thing when requiring toxicity data for pesticide registration purposes, she explained. The study found that neonics accounted for 92% of this increased toxicity. Neonic insecticides, also known as neonicotinoids, are used on over 140 different agricultural crops in more than 120 countries. They attack the central nervous system of insects, causing overstimulation of their nerve cells, paralysis and death. They are systemic insecticides, which means plants absorb them and incorporate the toxin into all of their tissues: stems, leaves, pollen, nectar, sap. Neonics are not only incredibly toxic to honeybees, they can remain toxic for more than 1,000 days in the environment, said Klein. “The good news is that we don’t need neonics,” she says. “We have four decades of research and evidence that agroecological farming methods can grow our food without decimating pollinators.” According a 2018 study, farms using neonics had 10 times the insect pressure and half the profits compared to those who use regenerative farming methods instead of insecticides .
We’ve Lost 3 Billion Birds Since 1970 in North America – (Science News – September 19, 2019)
While scientists have known for decades that certain kinds of birds have struggled as humans encroach on their habitats, a new comprehensive tally shows the staggering extent of the loss. Nearly 1 in 3 birds — or 29% — has vanished in the last half century, researchers report. Peter Marra, a conservation biologist at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. said the loss is widespread, affecting rare and common birds alike. “Our study is a wake-up call. We’re experiencing an ecological crisis.” Looking at the loss of individual birds sets this study apart, says Hillary Young, an ecologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara who was not involved in the study. “So much of the focus in conservation is on the loss of species,” but individual birds play an important role in ecosystems, pollinating plants, dispersing seeds and controlling pests. Rosenberg, Marra and their colleagues mined 12 databases built from decades of on-the-ground bird observations in the United States and Canada, often made by citizen scientists. Yearly observations built a record of population-level changes in 529 species, representing 76% of birds that breed in North America. A statistical analysis of these data let the team estimate population trends since 1970 and compare them with current best estimates of population size. The numbers paint a grim picture: Most habitats and species have experienced tremendous losses, especially migratory birds. Grassland species fared the worst. Some 700 million individual birds across 31 species, including meadowlarks, have vanished since 1970, a 53% drop. American sparrows, little brown birds commonly seen flitting through backyards, saw the largest drop of any group of birds. Nearly a quarter — 750 million — have disappeared over the past five decades. Even invasive species like starlings, which are highly adaptive generalists, experienced massive losses, with their populations declining 63%. “What’s scary to me is that the common birds, even invasive ones, aren’t faring any better than the rare birds,” Young says. “These results clearly show they’re just as vulnerable.”
Dangerous Levels of Plastic Found in Children’s Bodies Finds New Study – (Nation of Change – September 16, 2019)
According to a new study, a startling 97% of children tested were found to have plastic byproducts inside their bodies. Published in the German magazine Der Spiegel, researchers revealed that of the over 2,500 children whose blood and urine samples were tested between 2014 and 2017, 97% tested positive for plastic byproducts. The study was conducted by scientists at the German Environment Ministry and the Robert Koch Institute and was part of a larger federal study on “human biomonitoring” of children ages 3 to 17 years old. “Our study clearly shows that plastic ingredients, which are rising in production, are also showing up more and more in the body. It is really worrying that the youngest children are most affected as the most sensitive group,” said Marike Kolossa-Gehring, one of the study’s authors. Of the 15 plastics that scientists were looking for, 11 were found present in the children’s test samples. One of the most dangerous, and the one that researchers were particularly concerned with, was perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which is frequently used in non-stick cookware and waterproof clothing. PFOA can be dangerous for the reproductive system and the liver. It is set to be banned in the EU in 2020. Younger children were the most affected by plastic byproducts, with proportions of plastic in their system much higher. Children from poorer families were more likely to have plastic residue in their bodies than children from higher-income families.
How to Cool a Planet with Extraterrestrial Dust – (New York Times – September 18, 2019)
By and large, what happens in outer space stays in outer space. However, a study published in Science Advances offered a compelling exception to that rule. A team of researchers led by Birger Schmitz, a nuclear physicist at Lund University in Sweden, found that a distant, ancient asteroid collision generated enough dust to cause an ice age long ago on Earth. Philipp Heck, a curator of meteorites at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago and an author of the study, said, “Extraterrestrial events aren’t always destructive. Many people think about meteorites as just dinosaur killers, but we found the opposite. A big collision in the asteroid belt had constructive consequences that led to cooling and biodiversification.” Earth is frequently exposed to extraterrestrial matter; 40,000 tons of the stuff settle on the planet every year, enough to fill 1,000 tractor-trailers. But 466 million years ago, a 93-mile-wide asteroid collided with an unknown, fast-moving object between Mars and Jupiter. The crash increased the amount of dust arriving on Earth for the next two million years by a factor of 10,000. Dr. Schmitz, Dr. Heck and their team found that the dust triggered cooling in Earth’s atmosphere that led to an ice age. Because the dust from the asteroid collision accumulated gradually, the planet cooled gradually, allowing plants and animal species to adapt as sea levels dropped and temperatures declined by as much as 50 degrees Fahrenheit. The team derived their evidence from a study of fossil meteorites, extraterrestrial materials that long ago became embedded in Earth’s rocks. They are so rare, Dr. Heck calls them “Mona Lisas.” By tracing the increase in the meteorites of certain isotopes, the researchers were able to determine that extraterrestrial dust began to reach Earth about 50,000 years after the asteroid collision. A worldwide ice age began roughly 10,000 years later, during the Ordovician Period. “We’re talking about gentle changes that happened over 2 million years,” Dr. Heck said. “If we could travel back in time, it wouldn’t appear as a catastrophe to us, it would be more like a gentle nudge that led to global change and triggered diversification.” In their paper, the researchers propose that an asteroid could be captured and brought to one of the Lagrange points between the sun and Earth — an unstable zone where the gravitational pull of each is equal — allowing it to produce dust that blocks sunlight. However, Dr. Heck emphasized that their findings are only a basis for investigation. “Putting a rock into an unstable point that could make it fall into Earth has me worried,” he said.
Major US Insurer Says It Will No Longer Underwrite and Invest in Coal – (Truth Out – September 8, 2019)
Earlier this summer, Chubb, the largest commercial insurance company in the U.S., announced a new policy to address climate change. Saying that it “will not underwrite risks related to the construction and operation of new coal-fired plants,” the company has become the first major U.S. insurer to adopt a policy restricting coal insurance. With Chubb’s announcement, in which the company said it “recognizes the reality of climate change and the substantial impact of human activity on our planet,” the pressure is now on other major fossil fuel insurers in the U.S. like Liberty Mutual and AIG to follow suit and acknowledge the role they play in propping up the fossil fuel industry. Insurers clearly understand the grave threat of climate change — and have for decades. As far back as the 1970s, they were among the earliest to acknowledge the changing climate. After all, insurers are in the business of risk management, and their mission centers on modeling catastrophe and pricing risk.
Perfectly Real Deepfakes Will Arrive in 6 Months to a Year, Technology Pioneer Hao Li Says – (CNBC – September 20, 2019)
First Space Hotel with Cruise Ship-style Amenities Scheduled to Open in 2025 – (Fox 59 – September 18, 2019)
The Gateway Foundation, based in California, has released plans for the Von Braun Station, a cruise ship-style hotel floating among the stars. The aim is to get the hotel off the ground by 2025 and make it fully operational for travel by 2027. The name was voted for by the Gateway Foundation members because the station is based on designs von Braun sketched out some 60 years ago. The Von Braun Station is just one such space-based tourism option in development. Also planning to propel people into space are Virgin Galactic, Elon Musk’s SpaceX company and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin aerospace company, not to mention the International Space Station — which recently announced the possibility of commercial collaborations. The Von Braun Station is also not the only space hotel design in the works. Earlier in 2019, US-based space tech startup Orion Span released plans for a luxury space hotel called Aurora Station, which it hopes to launch in 2022. According to digitally rendered video and images released by the Gateway Foundation, the station resembles a rotating wheel, comprised of 24 modules, orbiting the Earth. Tim Alatorre, senior design architect at the Gateway Foundation, says the rotating wheel would create a simulated gravity. Near the center of the station there’s no artificial gravity, Alatorre says, but as you move down the outside of the station, the feeling of gravity increases. The Von Braun Station will sleep 352 people with a maximum capacity of 450. Alatorre says the hotel’s aesthetic was a direct response to the Stanley Kubrick movie “2001: A Space Odyssey” — just maybe not in the way you might think. “It was almost a blueprint of what not to do,” says Alatorre.
This Casino's Microgrid Might Be the Future of Energy – (Wired – May 15, 2019)
Tucked behind California’s “Redwood Curtain,” the rural placement of the tribally owned Blue Lake Rancheria casino affords it few access points, and roads may be inaccessible in the aftermath of a disaster. Tsunamis, earthquakes, major fires – these disasters all have one thing in common: they threaten to cut the Rancheria off from the grid for days, maybe weeks. Jana Ganion, sustainability and government affairs director at the Rancheria, said, “We need to prepare for the disasters that are reasonably foreseeable here.” The answer was to help pioneer what could be the future of energy in California and beyond. Working with scientists at the Schatz Energy Research Center at nearby Humboldt State University, and the local utility PG&E, the Rancheria developed its own solar-powered microgrid, allowing it to disconnect from the main grid and run off Tesla battery power. The setup powers six buildings, including a 55,000-square-foot casino and 102 hotel rooms—over 140,000 square feet of total building space. The tribe—which tallies just 49 members and around 100 acres—is under constant threat from wildfire, along with many other communities in California. In autumn, seasonal winds rustle electric equipment, showering sparks onto dry brush below. State officials have blamed PG&E (Pacific Gas & Electric) for starting 17 of California’s 21 major fires in 2017 alone. Switching to microgrids during especially dangerous wind storms could keep the state’s mountain towns much safer. But take it from the Blue Lake Rancheria: Building a microgrid isn’t as simple as throwing up a bunch of solar panels, bolting batteries to the ground, and saying au revoir to the grid at large. It takes time, expertise, and money. This article details some of the steps in that process.
Tesla Battery Researcher Unveils New Cell That Could Last 1 Million Miles in Robot Taxis – (Electrek – September 7, 2019)
When talking about the economics of Tesla’s future fleet of robotaxis, Tesla CEO Elon Musk emphasized that the vehicles need to be durable in order for the economics to work: The cars currently built are all designed for a million miles of operation. The drive unit is design, tested, and validated for 1 million miles of operation. But the CEO admitted that the battery packs are not built to last 1 million miles. Earlier this year, Musk said that they built Model 3 to last as long as a commercial truck, a million miles, and the battery modules should last between 300,000 miles and 500,000 miles. However, the CEO claims that Tesla has a new battery coming up next year that will last a million miles. The new battery tested is a Li-Ion battery cell with a next-generation “single crystal” NMC cathode and a new advanced electrolyte.
Weeknight Dinner around the World – (New York Times – September 27, 2019)
We asked 18 (mostly middle class) families to show us what they have for dinner on a typical weeknight. This is a fascinating article – photos of almost every family at the dinner table, detailed menus, an explanation of who cooks and who cleans up, and many recipes. Worth noticing: how similar most kitchens around the world are. Which dinner would you like to attend?
SECURITY AND THE FUTURE OF WARFARE
ICE Fails to Properly Redact Document, Reveals Location of Future 'Urban Warfare' Training Facility – (Newsweek – September 11, 2019)
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency has accidentally revealed the whereabouts of a future "urban warfare" training facility that is expected to include "hyper-realistic" simulations of homes, hotels and commercial buildings in Chicago and Arizona. On Tuesday, ICE published an acquisition form for the procurement of "hyper-realistic training devices" for a new training facility for its expanding Special Response Team (SRT) program on the Federal Business Opportunities (FBO) website. The immigration agency had sought to redact the location of the new training facility, but failed to do so properly. The agency, which has made this kind of mistake previously, appears to have a systemic information-security problem. In this case, Newsweek was able to simply copy and paste the document's contents into a word processor and quickly establish that the facility would be built at the Office of Firearms and Tactical Programs' (OFTP) Tactical Operations Complex (TOC) at Fort Benning, Georgia, a U.S. Army post used to prepare soldiers for combat. In addition to revealing Fort Benning as the location of the training site, ICE also failed to properly redact information indicating that the Army post would be getting an expansion, with up to 50 buildings expected to be added to the site. ICE's new training facility is expected to include, "at a minimum," a "multitude of basic, intermediate and hyper-realistic training devices, a tactical training warehouse, classroom facilities and vehicle assault training area." Among those training devices will be a "hyper-realistic props/design" that simulates "residential houses, apartments, hotels, government facilities and commercial buildings," along with other training configurations. ICE is specifically interested in acquiring a "Chicago" (high density urban) style replica, as well as an "Arizona" (rural desert) style replica.
Rekor Systems Launches Public Safety Network – (Rekor company website – August 21, 2019)
Rekor Systems, Inc. (REKR) (“Rekor”), a leading provider of public safety and vehicle recognition systems, has announced the launch of the Rekor Public Safety Network (“RPSN”). Any state or local law enforcement agency participating in the RPSN will be able to access real time data from any part of the network at no cost (after licensing the company’s software). The Company is initially launching the network by aggregating vehicle data from customers in over 30 states. With thousands of automatic license plate reading cameras currently in service that capture approximately 150 million plate reads per month, the network is expected to be live by the first quarter of 2020. “The Rekor Public Safety Network provides real time license plate reading (“LPR”), make, model and color alerting for law enforcement use only. We do not implement any facial recognition algorithms and our industry leading technology assists law enforcement in finding specific vehicles, not individuals,” said Rekor Chief Science Officer Matt Hill. “Structured and hosted in an environment that is in conformance with CJIS Security Policy, the network will not accept any paid data from private sources such as those used for vehicle asset recovery. In 2020, the RPSN will be fully compliant with the federal 2019 NDAA law, which bans the use of certain foreign manufactured cameras used in critical infrastructure.” Available to any existing Rekor customer that opts-in, the RSPN uses Rekor’s industry leading mobile and fixed mounted units for ultimate flexibility. Rekor’s software, powered by artificial intelligence (“AI”) and machine learning, can also be added to existing law enforcement security camera networks to search for law enforcement related hotlists as well as Amber Alerts and registered sex offender motor vehicles. “As an early participant in the Rekor Network, the Westchester County New York Police Department’s Real Time Crime Center (“RTCC”) has 84 cameras deployed that are capturing 25 million reads per month, resulting in hundreds of hotlist “hits” per month,” said Westchester County Police Real Time Crime Unit head Lt. Brian Hess. “When a crime occurs, detectives in the RTTC use Rekor technology to assemble relevant information and share it with our officers in the field. Now, we will not only be sharing it with our officers, but with every law enforcement agency in the RPSN — making this already powerful tool even more effective.” To learn how to join the Rekor Public Safety Network, please visit the company’s website. (Editor’s note: If you’ve never heard of this company, we suggest that you check out its website and notice how many industries they are serving. The company’s lead line is: Driven to Disrupt. And they specify: Innovative Solutions. Actionable Intelligence. Game-changing Results.)
'It Gets to You.' Extremism Researchers Confront the Unseen Toll of Their Work – (NPR – September 20, 2019)
ISIS attacks abroad and a series of deadly right-wing attacks in the U.S. have fueled a demand for more information on extremist networks. Understanding them is the first step in fighting them. But there has been little discussion about potential harm to the researchers tasked with looking deep inside the world's most dangerous movements. "There are moments, I find, where my everyday life is invaded by these scenes," said Charlie Winter, a senior fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalization. Because of his work, Winter has dozens of extremely gruesome images lodged in his brain, and there's no telling what might activate a memory. ISIS atrocities interrupt dinner parties, casual conversations, and peaceful moments with his daughter. "If you're asking someone to look closely at materials like that, then they need to be fully aware of what it is that they're about to do," he said. The risks that have always accompanied this line of work came into sharp relief with ISIS. Before the Islamic State, academics had to dig for a glimpse inside shadowy terrorist groups. ISIS posted operations online, pushing extremism into the social media age. The group also launched a magazine and filmed highly choreographed execution videos designed to shock viewers. Extremism researchers list several reasons for the culture of silence around the mental stress of their jobs. There's guilt about complaining from an ivory tower. There's detachment as harmful content is reduced to "data." And then there's the pace. "In the past few years, the sector has grown so quickly and the problem has evolved so fast that maybe there's not been a kind of pause point for people to sit back and think, 'Oh, wow, we've been doing this for a few years now without considering the effect on our mental health,' " said Chloe Colliver, who leads digital research at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a security think tank in London. Elana Newman, a University of Tulsa psychology professor who studies the effects of trauma, said interest is growing in what's known as "vicarious trauma" — violence experienced secondhand by law enforcement personnel, journalists, academics. Many of those affected say they're ashamed to admit they're struggling — after all, the violence didn't happen to them.
The Drone Attacks in Saudi Arabia Have Changed the Nature of Global Warfare – (Independent – September 21, 2019)
The recent attack on Saudi oil facilities by drones and missiles not only transforms the balance of military power in the Middle East, but marks a change in the nature of warfare globally. On the morning of 14 September, 18 drones and seven cruise missiles – all cheap and unsophisticated compared to modern military aircraft – disabled half of Saudi Arabia’s crude oil production and briefly raised the world price of oil by 20%. This happened despite the Saudis spending $67.6bn on their defense budget last year, much of it on vastly expensive aircraft and air defense systems, which notably failed to stop the attack. The US defense budget stands at $750bn, and its intelligence budget at $85bn, but the US forces in the Gulf did not know what was happening until it was all over. Debate is ongoing about whether it was the Iranians or the Houthis who carried out the attack, with the likely answer being a combination of the two. But an over-focus on responsibility diverts attention from a much more important development: a middle ranking power like Iran, under sanctions and with limited resources and expertise, acting alone or through allies, has inflicted crippling damage on theoretically much better-armed Saudi Arabia which is supposedly defended (or at least, outfitted) by the US, the world’s greatest military super-power. If the US and Saudi Arabia are particularly hesitant to retaliate against Iran it is because they know now, contrary to what they might have believed a year ago, that a counter-attack will not be a cost-free exercise. Oil production facilities and the desalination plants providing much of the fresh water in Saudi Arabia are conveniently concentrated targets for drones and small missiles. In other words, the military playing field will be a lot more level in future in a conflict between a country with a sophisticated air force and air defense system and one without.
China’s Big Brother Targets Business – (New York Times – September 22, 2019)
China is funneling vast amounts of public and private data into huge databases aimed at tightening its control over its nearly 1.4 billion people. But the business world has become its biggest target. Beijing is increasingly amassing information now divided among various government agencies and industry associations — including court decisions, payroll data, environmental records, copyright violations, even how many employees are members of the Communist Party — and using it to grade businesses and the people who run them, according to state media, government documents and experts. Companies that get low grades can be banned from borrowing money or doing other essential tasks. Their owners or executives could have their bank accounts frozen or be forbidden from traveling. It isn’t just aimed at Chinese businesses. In letters sent to the companies, officials have threatened to give United Airlines, American Airlines and Delta Air Lines black marks on their records if they don’t bend to Beijing’s wishes. FedEx could face a similar punishment. China calls it the social credit system. By next year, Chinese leaders had hoped to start an ambitious nationwide program focused on punishing or rewarding individuals. China calls it the social credit system. By next year, Chinese leaders had hoped to start an ambitious nationwide program focused on punishing or rewarding individuals. The system has yet to materialize for individuals on a mass scale. For many businesses, however, social credit has become a fact of life. In September, China’s central economic planning agency announced that it had completed a first evaluation of 33 million businesses, giving them ratings from 1 for excellent to 4 for poor. China hopes it will someday become a nationwide regulatory tool, harnessing the country’s growing skills in big data and automation, to help the Communist Party keep the business world in line. Applied to businesses, the social credit system could bring real benefits to China. Despite Beijing’s authoritarian grip on power, it has long struggled to get businesses to follow the law. Competing, inefficient government ministries hinder enforcement. Local governments shelter powerful businesses. The result has been widespread pollution, rampant violations of labor laws and other problems. (Editor’s note: Unfortunately, as one sentence in this article suggests, this new system is also susceptible to corruption.)
China’s Tree-planting Drive Could Falter in a Warming World – (Nature – September 23, 2019)
The Gobi Desert and similarly arid regions in China are expanding as processes such as overgrazing deplete vegetation on their borders, allowing wind and gravity to erode soil. China’s largest tree-planting drive, the Three-North Shelter Forest Program, also called the Great Green Wall, is designed to halt that encroachment. The government says that it has planted more than 66 billion trees across 13 provinces in the country’s north since the program began in 1978. Around the year 2000, deserts across the country were expanding by 10,400 square kilometers a year, says the government. But in 2017, the State Forestry Administration reported that China’s deserts were shrinking by more than 2,400 square kilometers a year. But there are some pitfalls to mass tree planting. In southwestern China, researchers have found that farmers were cutting down native vegetation so they could collect money for sowing non-native plants in government program. Then there are water shortages. Large parts of China — including some areas where trees are being planted — are becoming drier. A 2016 study found that the revitalized ecosystem is already sucking up rainfall and reducing the amount of water that runs off to rivers; a drier climate could exacerbate the situation and trigger water shortages for humans. Recognizing the error of planting trees in arid areas, the national forestry department and local governments have moved towards planting shrubs with lower water requirements. (Editor’s note: Even planting trees, especially non-native ones, can have unintended consequences.)
LIFE STYLE/SOCIAL TRENDS AND VALUES
Obesity Map of the United States Reveals the States Where up to 40% of Americans Are Dangerously Overweight – (Sun – September 13, 2019)
The map (in article) shows that in nine states - Alabama, Arkansas, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, and West Virginia - adult obesity is at or above 35%. But in West Virginia and Mississippi that figure hits 39.5%, according to data from the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Across the whole of the US, only three states have obesity levels under 25% (Colorado, Hawaii and the District of Columbia), and none have less than 20%. Obesity costs the United States health care system over $147 billion a year and research has shown it affects work productivity and military readiness, says the CDC. John Auerbach, president and CEO of the Trust for America's Health, which fights for action to tackle obesity, said, "Isolated programs and calls for lifestyle changes aren't enough. Instead, our report highlights the fundamental changes that are needed in the social and economic conditions that make it challenging for people to eat healthy foods and get sufficient exercise."
CONTACT AND THE EXPLORATION OF SPACE
Scientists Are Starting to Take Warp Drives Seriously, Especially One Specific Concept – (Science Alert – September 25, 2019)
In recent years, the scientific community has become understandably excited and skeptical about claims that a particular concept – the Alcubierre Warp Drive – might actually be feasible. The theory behind a warp propulsion system is relatively simple. Originally proposed by Mexican physicist Miguel Alcubierre in 1994, this concept for an FTL (faster than light) system is viewed as a highly theoretical (but possibly valid) solution to the Einstein field equations, which describe how space, time and energy in our Universe interact. In layman's terms, the Alcubierre Drive achieves FTL travel by stretching the fabric of space-time in a wave, causing the space ahead of it to contract while the space behind it expands. In theory, a spacecraft inside this wave would be able to ride this "warp bubble" and achieve velocities beyond the speed of light. This is what is known as the "Alcubierre Metric". While the field is still in its infancy, there have been a number of recent developments that have helped. For example, the discovery of naturally occurring gravitational waves (GWSs) by LIGO scientists in 2016, which both confirmed a prediction made by Einstein a century ago and proves that the basis for the warp drive exists in nature. Article discusses new developments further.
Amateur Astronomer Spots Comet Now Believed to Be from Another Solar System – (Time – September 13, 2019)
The solar system appears to have another foreign guest. The new comet, officially known as C/2019 Q4 (Borisov), was discovered by the Ukrainian amateur astronomer Gennady Borisov at the MARGO observatory in Nauchnij, Crimea on August 30th, 2019. It is traveling 93,000 mph (150,000 kph) – so fast that both NASA and the European Space Agency are reporting that it likely originated outside our solar system. It’s 260 million miles (420 million kilometers) from the sun and getting closer but it is expected to completely sidestep Earth, remaining beyond Mars’ orbit. Scientists predict the comet will hurtle past the sun in December and keep going until it’s back in interstellar space. It should be visible with professional telescopes well into next year. Its nucleus is estimated between 1.2 miles and 10 miles across (2 kilometers and 16 kilometers).
The Fermi Paradox Asks Why We Haven't Found Any Evidence of Aliens. Here Are 13 Potential Answers to That Question. – (Insider – September 22, 2019)
In the summer of 1950, physicist Enrico Fermi posed a simple question to his colleagues over lunch: "Where is everybody?" Fermi was referring to alien life in the universe. Arguably, he said, in the 4.4 billion years it took for intelligent life to evolve on our planet, the rest of our galaxy should have been overrun with similarly smart, technologically advanced aliens. But despite decades of searching the Milky Way for signs of extraterrestrials, we haven't found anything or anyone. This conundrum has come to be known as the Fermi Paradox. In his new book, End Times, author Bryan Walsh discusses 13 theories as to why we've yet to make contact with aliens and why we might never do so. Here's how each one addresses the Fermi Paradox. (Editor’s note: A 14th possible theory is one that Walsh doesn’t discuss: the government might simply be declining to disclose it. See: U.S. Navy drafting new guidelines for reporting UFOs.)
Worse Than Japan: How China’s Looming Demographic Crisis Will Doom Its Economic Dream - (South China Morning Post - January 4, 2019)
China first began to promote population control in 1973 and introduced its one-child policy in 1980. As a result, its total fertility rate dropped from 4.54 in 1973 to 2.29 in 1989, then to 1.22 in 2000 and 1.05 (then the lowest in the world) in 2015. Japan’s low fertility rate triggered its economic crisis in the 1990s. By 1992, Japan’s median age had increased to 38.5 (China hit that figure in 2016), while its old-age dependency ratio – the number of people aged 65-plus per 20- to 64-year-olds – increased to 18% (China is predicted to hit that figure by 2023). China's demographic structure is similar to that of Japan in 1992, and it may be experiencing an economic crisis similar to that of Japan in the 1990s. The average fertility rate in 2010-2016 was 1.18 in China and 1.42 in Japan. If China can stabilize its total fertility rate at 1.2, the total population will fall to around 1.07 billion by 2050 and 480 million by 2100. This means China's ageing crisis will be more severe than Japan’s, and its economic outlook bleaker. China has been hit by two further blows: the one-child policy has changed Chinese childbearing attitudes and distorted moral values about life; and, the economy, social environment, education and almost everything else relates back to the one-child policy. Having just one child or no children has become the social norm in China. However, the younger a nation’s population structure, the stronger its vitality for economic innovation, so in many ways the median age reflects economic vitality. In the past, young China tried to catch up with middle-aged America, and the economic gap shrank. In the future, the economic gap between elderly China and middle-aged US (due to average age of immigrants, the US is aging more slowly) will again widen. From this, we can say that the US economy will not be overtaken by China but, rather, by India. China’s economic vitality will continue to decline, which will have a disastrous impact on the global economy. (Editor's note: The gloom-and-doom title of this article is undoubtedly overstated, but it is an interesting article - in part for its statistics and demographic projections (which presume that the future is a smooth extension of the present), but more so for its implicit assumptions about the relationship between human labor and overall productivity [e.g. robotics], cultural values, and the population size that China can sustain in the middle class lifestyle or better which most Chinese aspire to.)
NEW TOOLS/NEW PROCESSES
A Swifter Way Towards 3D-printed Organs - (Harvard University - September 6, 2019)
20 people die every day waiting for an organ transplant in the United States, and while more than 30,000 transplants are now performed annually, there are over 113,000 patients currently on organ waitlists. Artificially grown human organs are seen by many as the “holy grail” for resolving this organ shortage, and advances in 3D printing have led to a boom in using that technique to build living tissue constructs in the shape of human organs. However, all 3D-printed human tissues to date lack the cellular density and organ-level functions required for them to be used in organ repair and replacement. Now, a new technique called SWIFT (sacrificial writing into functional tissue) created by researchers from Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), overcomes that major hurdle by 3D printing vascular channels into living matrices composed of stem-cell-derived organ building blocks (OBBs), yielding viable, organ-specific tissues with high cell density and function. Article explains the SWIFT process.
The US-China Trade War Has Set in Motion an Unstoppable Global Economic Transformation – (CNBC – September 14, 2019)
The tit-for-tat tariffs and accompanying Trump tweets have been driving markets all year, but what traders haven’t even begun to price in is the longer term, structural impact of this decoupling and its particular danger to individual companies. Wary that US leaders fundamentally want to undermine their country’s rise, Chinese leaders increasingly are dissuading or outright preventing their companies from dealing with American partners. Meanwhile, chastened US companies are rethinking supply chains and relocating Chinese-based manufacturing. If nothing interrupts this process, it will reverse 40 years of increased trade, financial and economic integration of the two countries. Other nations’ companies won’t follow the American lead but rather look to pick up lost US opportunities among China’s 1.4 billion consumers. The most profound shift of recent weeks, however, may be Beijing’s move from negotiating the best deal possible to hunkering down for an epochal, systemic contest that Chinese officials fear will long outlive the Trump administration. (Editor’s note: As the corn and soybeans of US farmers go largely unsold, farmers are well aware: when the US loses market share in China, it’s not coming back. The US is getting knocked off its plinth to become just one among many.)
A Long-Despised and Risky Economic Doctrine Is Now a Hot Idea – (Bloomberg – September 22, 2019)
Hardly anyone thinks central banks can fix a stalling world economy with their current tools. So some of the biggest names in finance are trying to invent new ones. The proposals so far all have one thing in common: They foresee the world’s once all-powerful central bankers taking a more junior role, and collaborating with governments. That type of stimulus used to be taboo, in part because it risks eroding the independence from politics that monetary policy makers prize -- and President Donald Trump is already threatening. History is littered with cautionary tales in which blurring the lines between central bank and Treasury coffers led to runaway inflation. The doctrine of central-bank independence was forged in an era of surging prices. But rich countries now face the opposite problem: deflationary forces. At one point this year, more than $17 trillion of debt -- mostly in Europe and Japan -- was yielding less than zero. The new idea, known in the jargon as fiscal-monetary cooperation, is one that economists are now trying to flesh out. It could solve problems, and maybe create some new ones, on both sides. “When you have the next downturn, QE isn’t going to be as effective, interest rates aren’t going to be effective,’’ said Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Associates LP, the world’s biggest hedge fund. “Then you need fiscal policies and debt monetization. We’re going to enter a new realm.’’ Modern Monetary Theory, a school that says government spending and taxes are better tools to steer the economy than interest rates, has also been gaining support. MMT is relaxed about monetary financing of budget deficits, and doesn’t see it as much different from selling bonds. It’s in Japan that collaboration has been taken furthest. The Bank of Japan (BOJ) now holds 43% of the national debt, which is the world’s largest. In theory, that debt hasn’t been monetized. In reality, most analysts think it has, and the sky hasn’t fallen in. “The market does not expect the government of Japan to ever be able to repay this debt,’’ Bank of America-Merrill Lynch strategist Athanasios Vamvakidis wrote in a July report. “The BOJ may as well make it explicit.’’
In Edward Snowden’s New Memoir, the Disclosures This Time Are Personal – (New York Times – September 13, 2019)
As Edward Snowden puts it in the preface of Permanent Record: “The decision to come forward with evidence of government wrongdoing was easier for me to make than the decision, here, to give an account of my life.” Snowden, of course, is the former intelligence contractor who, in 2013, leaked documents about the United States government’s surveillance programs, dispelling any notions that the National Security Agency and its allies were playing a quaint game of spy vs. spy, limiting their dragnet to specific persons of interest. Technological change and the calamity of 9/11 yielded new tools for mass surveillance and the incentive to use them. For revealing these secret programs and more, Snowden was deemed a traitor by the Obama administration, which charged him with violating the Espionage Act and revoked his passport, effectively stranding Snowden in Moscow, where he has been living ever since. “Permanent Record” is a riveting account and a curious artifact. The book is unlikely to change anyone’s mind about Snowden, but when it comes to privacy and speech and the Constitution, his story clarifies the stakes. For someone who worked in the intelligence community, the very idea of an autobiography feels uncomfortable. “It’s hard to have spent so much of my life trying to avoid identification,” he writes, “only to turn around completely and share personal disclosures in a book.” “Permanent Record” weaves together personal intel and spycraft info, much of it technologically elaborate yet clearly explained. You’ll also learn that even in our fragmented era, the tools of mass surveillance have revealed one thing that seems to connect almost everyone who’s online: porn. “This was true for virtually everyone of every gender, ethnicity, race and age,” Snowden writes, “from the meanest terrorist to the nicest senior citizen, who might be the meanest terrorist’s grandparent, or parent, or cousin.” The second half of Permanent Record reads like a literary thriller, as Snowden breaks down how he ended up in a Hong Kong hotel room in the summer of 2013, turning over a trove of classified documents to Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill of The Guardian, Barton Gellman of The Washington Post, and the filmmaker Laura Poitras.
FOR WHAT IT'S WORTH - articles off the beaten track which may - or may not - have predictive value.
Bond Primer: How the Fed’s Machinery Works – (Great Recession Blog – September 21, 2019)
If you have been trying to follow recent developments in the financial world and understand where monetary policy and fiscal policy intersect, but are not familiar with all the terms and practices used by the US Federal Reserve Bank … As in: What exactly is the “repo market”? and What is the “overnight fed funds rate”?... this article offers a good basic tutorial on how the Fed governs interest rates (particularly via repos).
JUST FOR FUN
The World’s Most Freakishly Realistic Text-generating A.I. Just Got Gamified – (Digital Trends – September 15, 2019)
What would an adventure game designed by the world’s most dangerous A.I. look like? A neuroscience grad student is here to help you find out. Earlier this year, OpenAI, an A.I. startup once sponsored by Elon Musk, created a text-generating bot deemed too dangerous to ever release to the public. Called GPT-2, the algorithm was designed to generate text so humanlike that it could convincingly pass itself off as being written by a person. Feed it the start of a newspaper article, for instance, and it would dream up the rest, complete with imagined quotes. The results were a Turing Test tailor-made for the fake news-infused world of 2019. Of course, like Hannibal Lecter, Heath Ledger’s Joker, or any other top-notch antagonist, it didn’t take GPT-2 too long to escape from its prison. Within months, a version of it had found its way online (you can try it out here.) Now it has formed the basis for a text adventure game created by Northwestern University neuroscience graduate student Nathan Whitmore. Building on the predictive neural network framework of GPT-2, GPT Adventure promises to rewrite itself every time it’s played. It’s a procedurally generated game experience in which players can do whatever they want within the confines of a world controlled by the fugitive A.I. In GPT Adventure, the text world of the game is generated by the predictive GPT-2. That means that, instead of programming a collection of rooms and monsters in advance, the game starts your character in a location and then uses A.I. to figure out what happens next. On the face of it, the resulting game is simplistic. But it hints at something amazing: Another piece of evidence that machines can, to some degree, display creativity. While logic doesn’t always apply, players can type any command into the game and, in many cases, it will oblige and try to come up with whatever step follows next. “From a gameplay perspective, the cool thing is it can be totally open-ended and you can do basically anything you want,” Whitmore said. “I tried a version of it where you’re exploring a space station instead of a cave. I can say ‘>eat rock’ or ‘>ride sheep’ and the game will just go with it and try to figure out what should happen next. You can do all this weird stuff that no-one would ever bother to program because the GPT-2 model has enough ‘common sense’ knowledge to roll with it in a believable way.”
A FINAL QUOTE
If it's green, it's biology; If it stinks, it's chemistry; If it has numbers, it's math; If it doesn't work, it's technology. -- Unknown (Editor’s note: We first encountered this quotation in the early 2000s. At the time, technology that didn’t work usually meant poorly designed software. At this point, software on the whole does work. Now when technology doesn’t “work”, it’s often at a metalevel: the issue is likely to be “unintended consequences”. )
A special thanks to: Chas Freeman, Ursula Freer, Diane Petersen, Todd Pierce, Gary Sycalik, Steve Ujvarosy, and all of you who have sent us interesting links in the past. If you see something we should know about, do send it along - thanks.
Edited by John L. Petersen