The Post-Human World – The Atlantic

A conversation about the end of work, individualism, and the human species between Derek Thompson and the historian Yuval Harari.

At the end of the 19th century, France, Germany, and Japan offered free health care to their citizens. Their aim was not strictly to make people happy, but to strengthen their army and industrial potential. In other words, welfare was necessary because people were necessary. But you ask the scary question: What happens to welfare in a future where government no longer needs people?

The reason to build all these mass social service systems was to support strong armies and strong economies. Already the most advanced armies don’t need [as many] people. The same might happen in the civilian economy. The problem is motivation: What if the government loses the motivation to help the masses?

What is the meaning of life? Historically philosophers investigated questions that were interesting to only half a percentage of humankind.

“What is ideal way to seek happiness?” isn’t a useful inquiry when the entire countryside is dying of plague.

Yes, but once you are free from considerations of famine and plague, this becomes a much more practical question

you have a ominous prediction that humans will merge with the computers, algorithms, and biochemical devices that make our lives better. We will yield our authority and identity to data and artificial intelligence. What invention or innovation in the world right now is the best example of this future?

I like to begin with the simple things. Look at GPS applications, like Waze and Google Maps. Five years ago, you went somewhere in your car or on foot. You navigated based on your own knowledge and intuition. But today everybody is blindly following what Waze is telling them. They’ve lost the basic ability to navigate by themselves. If something happens to the application, they are completely lost.

That’s not the most important example. But it is the direction we’re talking about. You reach a juncture on the road, and you trust the algorithm. Maybe the junction is your career. Maybe it’s the decision to get married. But you trust the algorithm rather than your own intuition.

On a case-by-case basis, this technology seems wonderful. It’s making me so much healthier and happier. Technology is rescuing me from the natural errors of misreading my future wants and needs. But over time, “I” have disappeared, because I have outsourced my identity to a biochemical analyst.

Source: The Post-Human World – The Atlantic

Bill Gates: the robot that takes your job should pay taxes — Quartz

So if you can take the labor that used to do the thing automation replaces, and financially and training-wise and fulfillment-wise have that person go off and do these other things, then you’re net ahead. But you can’t just give up that income tax, because that’s part of how you’ve been funding that level of human workers.

— Bill Gates
Source: Bill Gates: the robot that takes your job should pay taxes — Quartz

How Donald Trump Could Build an Autocracy in the U.S. – The Atlantic

No society, not even one as rich and fortunate as the United States has been, is guaranteed a successful future. When early Americans wrote things like “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty,” they did not do so to provide bromides for future bumper stickers. They lived in a world in which authoritarian rule was the norm, in which rulers habitually claimed the powers and assets of the state as their own personal property.

“The benefit of controlling a modern state is less the power to persecute the innocent, more the power to protect the guilty.”

no human contrivance is tamper-proof, a constitutional democracy least of all.

Congress can protect the American system from an overbearing president. But will it? … In the ordinary course of events, it’s the incoming president who burns with eager policy ideas. Consequently, it’s the president who must adapt to—and often overlook—the petty human weaknesses and vices of members of Congress in order to advance his agenda. This time, it will be Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, doing the advancing—and consequently the overlooking.

A scandal involving the president could likewise wreck everything that Republican congressional leaders have waited years to accomplish. However deftly they manage everything else, they cannot prevent such a scandal. But there is one thing they can do: their utmost not to find out about it.

Civil unrest will not be a problem for the Trump presidency. It will be a resource. Trump will likely want not to repress it, but to publicize it—and the conservative entertainment-outrage complex will eagerly assist him. … If there is harsh law enforcement by the Trump administration, it will benefit the president not to the extent that it quashes unrest, but to the extent that it enflames more of it, ratifying the apocalyptic vision that haunted his speech at the convention.

If people retreat into private life, if critics grow quieter, if cynicism becomes endemic, the corruption will slowly become more brazen, the intimidation of opponents stronger. Laws intended to ensure accountability or prevent graft or protect civil liberties will be weakened.

If the president uses his office to grab billions for himself and his family, his supporters will feel empowered to take millions. If he successfully exerts power to punish enemies, his successors will emulate his methods.

If citizens learn that success in business or in public service depends on the favor of the president and his ruling clique, then it’s not only American politics that will change. The economy will be corrupted too, and with it the larger culture. A culture that has accepted that graft is the norm, that rules don’t matter as much as relationships with those in power, and that people can be punished for speech and acts that remain theoretically legal—such a culture is not easily reoriented back to constitutionalism, freedom, and public integrity.

A constitutional regime is founded upon the shared belief that the most fundamental commitment of the political system is to the rules. The rules matter more than the outcomes.

What happens in the next four years will depend heavily on whether Trump is right or wrong about how little Americans care about their democracy and the habits and conventions that sustain it.

Those citizens who fantasize about defying tyranny from within fortified compounds have never understood how liberty is actually threatened in a modern bureaucratic state: not by diktat and violence, but by the slow, demoralizing process of corruption and deceit. And the way that liberty must be defended is not with amateur firearms, but with an unwearying insistence upon the honesty, integrity, and professionalism of American institutions and those who lead them.

Source: How Donald Trump Could Build an Autocracy in the U.S. – The Atlantic

The Internet Is Mostly Bots – The Atlantic

the latest survey, which is based on an analysis of nearly 17 billion website visits from across 100,000 domains, shows bots are back on top. Not only that, but harmful bots have the edge over helper bots, which were responsible for 29 percent and 23 percent of all web traffic, respectively.

More than 94 percent of the 100,000 domains included in the report experienced at least one bot attack over the 90-day period in Imperva’s study.

Facebook’s feed fetcher, by itself, accounted for 4.4 percent of all website traffic, according to the report

Source: The Internet Is Mostly Bots – The Atlantic

An astronomy student made a mesmerizing video of four exoplanets orbiting its host star 129 light years away — Quartz

You’re watching planets orbiting a star that’s 129 light years away, as captured by an observatory in Hawaii. Let that sink in.

The star in question is HR 8799, found in the Pegasus constellation.

Source: An astronomy student made a mesmerizing video of four exoplanets orbiting its host star 129 light years away — Quartz

On Deniability and Duress

I’m convinced that there’s a sociotechnical blind spot in how current technology handles access to personal devices. We, in the infosec community, need to start focusing more on allowing users the flexibility to handle situations of duress rather than just access control. Deniability and duress codes can go a long way in helping us get there.

Source: On Deniability and Duress

Refugees and the Limits of Economic Logic – The Atlantic

Taking in people who have no safe home isn’t about GDP growth; it’s about basic decency.

Welcoming refugees might not be an efficient means of growing national wealth. But it is a moral way to spend the national surplus. No country in the history of the world has ever been both so big and so rich—and, despite 9/11, no similar power in history has been so safe from external threats for so long.

But what good is this extraordinary wealth and fortune if it does not free America from the prison of scarcity, in which every single policy decision must be about maximizing national income? With its vast richness, the United States has earned something that is not quantifiable—the capacity to be merciful.

Source: Refugees and the Limits of Economic Logic – The Atlantic

How to get kids to read more books — Quartz

Have you ever watched children choosing books at a library or bookstore? They don’t pick books based on title, author, or jacket description the way we adults do. Instead, they spend time exploring each book, opening and paging through it, skimming a page here, looking at a picture there. Then they close it and open the next one.

No amount of game play or virtual-reward system is going to change that shopping dynamic of trying, testing, and browsing for a good fit. Providing appropriate content and frictionless access to a huge selection of books will enable and expand children’s browsing—and this is far more powerful than any external reward system.

Source: How to get kids to read more books — Quartz

White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon Added To Top Of National Security Council : The Two-Way : NPR

Trump replaced the head of the United States Intelligence Community and the highest-ranking, senior most military officer in the United States Armed Forces with Steve Bannon on the group of people who debate and decide on targeted killing.


Bannon has been elevated to the NSC’s Principals Committee, the top interagency group for discussing national security. He formerly led Breitbart News, a platform for the alt-right movement.

President Trump has reorganized the National Security Council by elevating his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, and demoting the director of National Intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Source: White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon Added To Top Of National Security Council : The Two-Way : NPR


[Targeted killing / Drone strike] nominations trickle up to the National Counterterrorism Center, or NCTC, and to the National Security Council, or NSC, before the President signs off.

Source: The United States Needs a Drone Board – Defense One


How America came to embrace assassination.

Source: Targeted Killings: A Short History | Foreign Policy