The Importance of India, by Alex Kolchinski

Source: The Importance of India

A significant factor in the power of states throughout history has been sheer numbers. … Of course, many factors other than population influence the power of states, including economic productivity and the strength of institutions. But population is a multiplier for those factors, and a country with a large enough population can exercise comparable or greater power than more developed but less populous countries.

if China succeeds in sustaining its growth trajectory economically and militarily, it will grow to overshadow the United States, wielding the same ~5x population advantage over the US that the US now enjoys over its predecessor power, the United Kingdom. This also means that the repressive and authoritarian Chinese model will increasingly prevail over the free democratic model that America has championed.

However, America is not the most populous democracy in the world. That honor belongs to India.

In a world that is quickly going from unipolar to multipolar, it is worth considering which states will wield influence in the century to come, and on behalf of which values (if any, other than self-interest!) they will wield it. If China rises to heights of power that eclipse the US completely, only India may be strong enough to speak for liberal democracy.

The Future is not Retro | Pedestrian Observations

Source: The Future is not Retro | Pedestrian Observations, by Alon Levy

People who dislike the auto-oriented form of cities can easily romanticize how cities looked before mass motorization. … If you want to see what 21st-century [transit-oriented development] looks like, go to the richer parts of East Asia, especially Tokyo, which builds much more housing than Hong Kong and Singapore. … There are clusters of high-rise buildings next to train stations, and lower density further away, even small single-family houses fronting narrow streets far enough from train stations that it’s not economical to redevelop them. … There’s a lot more demand 100 meters from the station than two kilometers away, enough that people pay the construction cost premium for the 20th floor 100 meters from the stations in preference to the third floor two kilometers away.

Three Big Things: The Most Important Forces Shaping the World | Collaborative Fund

Source: Three Big Things: The Most Important Forces Shaping the World | Collaborative Fund, by Morgan Housel

An irony of studying history is that we often know exactly how a story ends, but have no idea where it began.

Every current event – big or small – has parents, grandparents, great grandparents, siblings, and cousins. … Those roots can snake back infinitely. But the deeper you dig, the closer you get to the Big Things: the handful of events that are so powerful they influence a range of seemingly unrelated topics.

The world is driven by tail events. A minority of things drive the majority of outcomes. … World War II, World War I, and the Great Depression influenced nearly every important event of the 20th century. Industrialization and the Civil War did the same in the 19th.

Demographics, inequality, and information access will have a huge impact on the coming decades.

A demographic shift that reconfigures modern economies.

Wealth inequality that’s grown for four decades hits an inevitable breaking point. … The takeaway is that power is transitory. It shifts when those who don’t have it get so fed up that they bond together to gain enough influence to take it back. Never underestimate the power of a unified group of powerless people with a shared goal. If you accept this premise, then what’s happened over the last 40 years is a Big Thing. … I don’t know where it ends up, but the federal government of, say, 1960 was unrecognizable to that of 1920. The Great Depression and World War II triggered most of that change, but the enduring social changes of that period were centered around supporting lower-income groups after the epic Gilded Age.

Access to information closes gaps that used to create a social shield of ignorance. … The telephone eliminated the information gap between you and a distant relative, but the internet has closed the gap between you and literally every stranger in the world. … Michael Arrington recently wrote: “I thought Twitter was driving us apart, but I’m slowly starting to think half of you always hated the other half but never knew it until Twitter.” This is a good point that highlights something easy to overlook: 1) everyone belongs to a tribe, 2) those tribes sometimes fundamentally disagree with one another, 3) that’s fine if those tribes keep their distance, 4) the internet increasingly assures that they don’t.

In effect, credentialism is melting away. I don’t care who you are or what your job title is. If you have a good idea, I want to hear it. Of course the flip side of this is dangerous, as the maniac shouting the loudest often gets the attention.

A third shift is that it is now harder to hide behind, yet easier to spread, false and misleading information. I don’t know how to reconcile that contradiction, but you see both everywhere.

The Best Way to Predict the Future is to Create It. But Is It Already Too Late? | NIH, by Alan Kay

Source: The Best Way to Predict the Future is to Create It. But Is It Already Too Late?, by Alan Curtis Kay

To me, future is not five years or ten years. I think about the future as extending in front of us at least as far as the era that we live in, which I date back to kind of the invention of science or the early 17th century so it is always worthwhile thinking a hundred years or few hundred years ahead.

If “the best way to predict the future is to invent it”, is it too late to invent a healthy future?

Children are the future we send to the future.

The best way to predict the future is to invent the children who will invent it.

The Political Instability Task Force estimated that, between 1956 and 2016, a total of forty-three genocides took place, causing the death of about 50 million people.

When you start looking at this stuff you start thinking about “Oh, this is starting to look like normal behavior. Kind of like war.” This is not off to the side behavior. But then the other thought, what is interesting is if you look at the world population here, the United States has about 340 million people in it and if you go back in time to when the entire world only had 340 million which was about 1000 a.d. or so, what you see is they had wars everywhere. The United States has not had an internal war for 150 years now so the entire population of the world somehow was being stable. And in fact the European Union has not had an internal war for 75 years and that is about 600 million.

The larger societies have damped down these impulses. But on the other hand, these are really unstable, I think.

World Population
Lists of wars by date | Wikipedia

If you look at the National Institute of Health: National Institute of Mental Health, what they classify all mental illnesses roughly outside of the normal… There are things that are outside the normal. For instance schizophrenia is less than 1 percent. Suicide thoughts are more popular. I went looking for other things outside the normal. For instance, conscientious objectors. Going back in all of the wars that we ever had in the 20th century, world war one and world war two and so forth, have always been just about a quarter of one percent of the population has registered as a conscientious objector when they get drafted. So what is interesting is 99.77 percent are not conscientious objectors. Doesn’t mean they aren’t going to shoot their gun in the air, because some people didn’t register that still did not want to kill anybody. But as far as expressing an opinion, it is completely normal to be willing to kill others if your culture says it is okay.

If we do not normalize, people here know very well that humans are basically delusional. We believe things, we project those beliefs out onto the world. If we looked at what is the mapping between what we think is reality in here and what we think is out there, we would see a complete mismatch. I would call that a definition of not being sane. … But instead we don’t define [sanity] that way. We define insanity or mental illness simply outside of what most people actually do, no matter how crazy it is.

What if the normal human species is mentally ill or worse? I think this is provable.

List of cognitive biases | Wikipedia

[heavily paraphrased:] NIMH (the National Institute of Mental Health), from its website, has a purpose, vision, mission, topics… but it is not in the charge of NIMH to start looking at the “normal” human mental disorders of thinking and behavior that are so disastrous to civilization and life.

We sometimes think we’re not very imaginative. The problem is we are, just on some odd ideas. 77 percent of Americans believe in angels. 94 percent believe in supreme beings. Not zero percentage of Americans believe in sacrificing children to the gods. 50 percent believe in demons and ghosts. 21 percent still believe in witches. … A great book to read if you like this kind of thing is called The Great Cat Massacre. … It was a genocide of cats when they decided that cats were the witches in France and causing all manner of bad problems so they wound up killing a million cats. It is a book that explores how humans get these crazy ideas and then act as though they are real.

We have a really hard time with other kinds of things which our imaginations are not set up [for], like even things that are going to happen to us. We find it difficult to vividly imagine disasters ahead of time to take action to prevent them. We can be heroes in a real disaster. Why can’t we be a hero ahead of time?

The flood that we are ignoring, the thing we’re not building the dam for, is preparing the children for the next generation. We just complain about the state of the children when they come out of college.

The children basically, genetically, are aiming to learn the most important things that they will ever know from the culture around them. It is the form of that culture that is going to provide, for most children, the most lasting impressions.

If you look at the total number of people who could help teachers (retired STEM degree holders age 60-75), it is way more than the number of classrooms that need to be helped and yet almost none of these people are getting into the classrooms to help.

If you want to do something right now to make an enormous difference and perhaps create more children that can create the bigger changes, get out there and help the existing elementary school teachers. … I got these figures from NIH. Looks like there are over 9000 people in NIH that could be out there helping raise better children to think better than their parents do today.

Dude, you broke the future! – Charlie’s Diary

Source: Dude, you broke the future! – Charlie’s Diary, by Charlie Stross

This is the text of my keynote speech at the 34th Chaos Communication Congress in Leipzig, December 2017.

(You can also watch it on YouTube, but it runs to about 45 minutes.)

My recipe for fiction set ten years in the future used to be 90% already-here, 9% not-here-yet but predictable, and 1% who-ordered-that. But unfortunately the ratios have changed. I think we’re now down to maybe 80% already-here—climate change takes a huge toll on infrastructure—then 15% not-here-yet but predictable, and a whopping 5% of utterly unpredictable deep craziness.

Old, slow AI … Corporations

The problem with corporations is that despite their overt goals—whether they make electric vehicles or beer or sell life insurance policies—they are all subject to instrumental convergence insofar as they all have a common implicit paperclip-maximizer goal: to generate revenue. If they don’t make money, they are eaten by a bigger predator or they go bust. Making money is an instrumental goal—it’s as vital to them as breathing is for us mammals, and without pursuing it they will fail to achieve their final goal, whatever it may be.

It seems to me that our current political upheavals are best understood as arising from the capture of post-1917 democratic institutions by large-scale AIs. … Our major political parties are led by people who are compatible with the system as it exists—a system that has been shaped over decades by corporations distorting our government and regulatory environments. We humans are living in a world shaped by the desires and needs of AIs, forced to live on their terms, and we are taught that we are valuable only insofar as we contribute to the rule of the machines.

If we look at our historical very slow AIs, what lessons can we learn from them about modern AI—the flash flood of unprecedented deep learning and big data technologies that have overtaken us in the past decade?

plenty of technologies have, historically, been heavily regulated or even criminalized for good reason … Let me give you four examples—of new types of AI applications—that are going to warp our societies even worse than the old slow AIs of yore have done. This isn’t an exhaustive list: these are just examples. We need to work out a general strategy for getting on top of this sort of AI before they get on top of us.

Political hacking tools: social graph-directed propaganda … They identified individuals vulnerable to persuasion who lived in electorally sensitive districts, and canvas them with propaganda that targeted their personal hot-button issues.

the use of neural network generated false video media … This stuff is still geek-intensive and requires relatively expensive GPUs. But in less than a decade it’ll be out in the wild, and just about anyone will be able to fake up a realistic-looking video of someone they don’t like doing something horrible. … The smart money says that by 2027 you won’t be able to believe anything you see in video unless there are cryptographic signatures on it, linking it back to the device that shot the raw feed—and you know how good most people are at using encryption? The dumb money is on total chaos.

Thanks to deep learning, neuroscientists have mechanised the process of making apps more addictive. … true deep learning driven addictiveness maximizers can optimize for multiple attractors simultaneously. Now, Dopamine Labs seem, going by their public face, to have ethical qualms about the misuse of addiction maximizers in software. But neuroscience isn’t a secret, and sooner or later some really unscrupulous people will try to see how far they can push it.

Unfortunately there are even nastier uses than scraping social media to find potential victims for serial rapists. Does your social media profile indicate your political or religious affiliation? Nope? Don’t worry, Cambridge Analytica can work them out with 99.9% precision just by scanning the tweets and Facebook comments you liked. Add a service that can identify peoples affiliation and location, and you have the beginning of a flash mob app: one that will show you people like Us and people like Them on a hyper-local map.