Thursday, March 22, 2018

Friday Thinking 23 March 2018

Hello all – Friday Thinking is a humble curation of my foraging in the digital environment. My purpose is to pick interesting pieces, based on my own curiosity (and the curiosity of the many interesting people I follow), about developments in some key domains (work, organization, social-economy, intelligence, domestication of DNA, energy, etc.)  that suggest we are in the midst of a change in the conditions of change - a phase-transition. That tomorrow will be radically unlike yesterday.

Many thanks to those who enjoy this.
In the 21st Century curiosity will SKILL the cat.
Jobs are dying - work is just beginning.

“Be careful what you ‘insta-google-tweet-face’”
Woody Harrelson - Triple 9




With Bitcoin and Blockchain tech, we are no different from Email in 1984 — we still need five-minute videos explaining how it works. People are still afraid of Bitcoin, thinking it is dangerous and only used by criminals in the dark web. The apps themselves are still clunky and too complicated for your average internet user. Bitcoin and cryptocurrency exchanges get hacked often, and scams abound the industry. The adoption of the technology on a global scale is not even at 1%, so we have a long way to go before we see this shift.
It will happen slowly, then suddenly.

Other Blockchain applications will also become basic utilities for a myriad of uses ranging from smart contracts, marketplaces, governance, provenance, and any service that requires agreement in a trustless environment.

Before we know it, the world will be using the Bitcoin protocol like we use Email today — as a basic utility for transferring information, but in this case, the information will have value.

Bitcoin Will Become a Basic Utility, Just Like Email

new printing technologies make more complex parts possible. In 2015, a new class of software started to appear: generative tools that let the mechanical engineer tell the computer where a part should exist, outlines the external forces acting upon it and identifies the areas to avoid. Once the high-level requirements are entered, a high-powered, AI-driven cloud computer cluster designs the part in a multi-physics context. This flexible, AI-driven approach to design is known as generative design and produces fully optimized parts that are often 50% lighter than their conventional counterparts without sacrificing performance. These super complex shapes resemble nature and it is only possible to manufacture them through 3D printing. Thanks to these new, high-speed presses it's finally cost-effective to produce these previously impossible-to-create parts.

“Reductive decontenting” is the process in which the reduction of weight of many components through the use of new manufacturing technology results in further reduction of weight of total active components within a product. For example, if you reduce the weight of a vehicle, the brakes, shocks and engine can be smaller. Almost everything benefits when you use generative design to drastically make a product lighter and you can then take advantage of the lower weight for reductive decontenting. There are fewer materials to purchase, the end product is lighter so it takes less energy to move it, and performance increases as you are able to accelerate and brake faster.

The way we make things is about to fundamentally change

Restoring Confidence in Confidence Men?
At the theatre, in exchange for our suspension of disbelief, we expect a concerted effort to produce verisimilitude. The narrative we preemptively consent to must be absorbing and at least minimally plausible. Efforts must be made to disguise the cables protruding from Spider-Man’s costume. Comanche warriors shouldn’t be played by dudes from Appalachia. The demand for verisimilitude is what makes theatre risky. The audience reserves the right to stop pretending whenever they feel their feats of imagination are not being earned. They could decide at any moment that jeering the actors or hurling rotten tomatoes is superior entertainment. No matter how tight the script, no matter how well-rehearsed the cast or expensive the production, there is still always a chance that it all goes terribly wrong.

Confidence is finance’s fourth wall. It is held up on one side by the convenience of money – and the public’s passion for that convenience, which persuades them to trade their labour and property for greenbacks and bitcoins. It is held up on the other side by the producers of money, who naturally benefit from the public’s passion for what they produce, but who must sustain the agreeable but ultimately fantastical illusion that money has any intrinsic value in the face of daily reminders that it does not. The financial system depends upon the plausibility of narratives of wealth and commerce performed by those best positioned to know those narratives are facile, if not frankly false.

Finance requires, in moments of crisis, the production of confidence in others by those who have none themselves

Confidence tricks

We’re not living through a crisis about what is true, we’re living through a crisis about how we know whether something is true. We’re not disagreeing about facts, we’re disagreeing about epistemology. The “establishment” version of epistemology is, “We use evidence to arrive at the truth, vetted by independent verification (but trust us when we tell you that it’s all been independently verified by people who were properly skeptical and not the bosom buddies of the people they were supposed to be fact-checking).”

The “alternative facts” epistemological method goes like this: “The ‘independent’ experts who were supposed to be verifying the ‘evidence-based’ truth were actually in bed with the people they were supposed to be fact-checking. In the end, it’s all a matter of faith, then: you either have faith that ‘their’ experts are being truthful, or you have faith that we are. Ask your gut, what version feels more truthful?”

If we’re not careful, “media literacy” and “critical thinking” will simply be deployed as an assertion of authority over epistemology.

In some online communities, taking the red pill refers to the idea of waking up to how education and media are designed to deceive you into progressive propaganda. In these environments, visitors are asked to question more. They’re invited to rid themselves of their politically correct shackles. There’s an entire online university designed to undo accepted ideas about diversity, climate, and history. Some communities are even more extreme in their agenda. These are all meant to fill in the gaps for those who are opening to questioning what they’ve been taught.

You Think You Want Media Literacy… Do You?

Environmentalists cite the 2006-10 drought in Syria, often credited with sparking the civil war there, as an omen of the crises climate change will bring. But the drought also hit Israel, and the effect there was altogether different. Shortages forced Israel to tighten its already stringent water conservation and recycling standards. More importantly, they prompted breakthroughs in reverse-osmosis desalination technology, cutting by half the energy needed to extract fresh water from the sea and dramatically lowering the cost to just 58 cents per cubic meter (1,000 liters) of drinkable water.  As a result, Israel’s water situation U-turned from worsening scarcity to sufficiency. The arid country now desalinates 600 million cubic meters of water annually, easing the pressure on natural freshwater sources like the Sea of Galilee. More desal plants are being built. By 2020 Israel will get at least 40 percent of its water, including irrigation water, from desalination.

The implications of cheap desalination are profound. By tapping limitless sea-water resources it could drought-proof agriculture and thus eliminate the greatest threat posed by climate change.

The Conquest of Climate

Here’s a good signal of the potential for Blockchain technologies to make governance more secure.
Blockchain has two distinctive features that make it a potent tool against corruption. First, it provides an unprecedented level of security of the information and the integrity of records it manages, guaranteeing their authenticity. It eliminates opportunities for falsification and the risks associated with having a single point of failure in the management of data. It also helps overcome the data silos in traditional bureaucracies in which public entities are reluctant to share information among themselves.

Second, blockchain provides a transparent and decentralised system to record a sequence of transactions, or “blocks.” As Zach Church of MIT explains, “transactions are recorded chronologically, forming an immutable chain, and can be more or less private or anonymous depending on how the technology is implemented.” Blockchain creates an immutable trail of transactions, allowing for the full traceability of every transaction. For New America, a think tank, “a public blockchain provides regulators and law enforcement with a roadmap to identify illicit activity or malfeasance by leaving enough digital clues to identify bad actors.”

Will Blockchain Disrupt Government Corruption?

Blockchain technology will not solve all government problems, but it can help curb corruption and instill trust in government.
Will blockchain technology be the next disrupting technology to revolutionize government? Probably not. Can it be a game changer in the global fight against corruption? Possibly so. New technologies are disrupting our lives and transforming government. Governments around the world are going digital, embracing digital innovations to modernize their bureaucracies and recast their relations with citizens. Technology is changing how governments are expected to meet the rising expectations of citizens in terms of quality, speed, and integrity. Digital citizens are expecting more from their governments, demanding better services and greater accountability. Governments struggle to catch up.

Given the hype, it is important to assess both the promises and the pitfalls of blockchain, thinking through what it can and cannot do, based on hard evidence. Initiatives such as by New York University’s Governance Lab are starting to look closer at whether and how blockchain technologies can be used for social change. Blockchain has emerged first in the financial industry, building on cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin. The requirements and implications of blockchain in the public sector, however, are yet to be fully understood. Key issues include being clearer about the problems it is expected to address, its advantages compared to alternative digital solutions, its fitness-for-purpose in different institutional contexts, and, ultimately, the value it could add to existing institutions.

There are three important value propositions, or applications, for blockchain in combatting government corruption: verifying identity, registering assets, and tracking transactions. “Blockchain’s decentralized nature and the immutability of its records make it a powerful tool in the fight against the worst crimes, such as illicit trades, human trafficking and money laundering,” says Mariana Dahan, founder of the World Identity Network, which launched a pilot that uses blockchain to help prevent child trafficking in Moldova.

And here’s a strong signal of the future of one application of the Blockchain technologies.
“Anonymized votes/ballots are being recorded on Agora’s blockchain, which will be publicly available for any interested party to review, count and validate,” said Gammar. “This is the first time a government election is using blockchain technology.”

Sierra Leone just ran the first blockchain-based election

The citizens of Sierra Leone went to the polls on March 7 but this time something was different: the country recorded votes at 70% of the polling to the blockchain using a technology that is the first of its kind in actual practice.

The tech, created by Leonardo Gammar of Agora, anonymously stored votes in an immutable ledger, thereby offering instant access to the election results.

Now there’s some clarification on the above signal. This is still worth noting - and tracking the situation.

Sierra Leone government denies the role of blockchain in its recent election

The National Electoral Commission Sierra Leone has come out with a clarification to – and, an outright condemnation – of the news that theirs was one of the first elections recorded to the blockchain. While the blockchain  voting company Agora claimed to have run the first blockchain-based election, it appears that the company did little more than observe the voting and store some of the results.

“Anonymized votes/ballots are being recorded on Agora’s blockchain, which will be publicly available for any interested party to review, count and validate,” said Agora’s Leonardo Gammar. “This is the first time a government election is using blockchain technology.”

“Agora’s results for the two districts they tallied differed considerably from the official results, according to an analysis of the two sets of statistics carried out by RFI,” wrote RFI’s Daniel Finnan.

Clearly the technology is controversial, especially in election law and vote-counting. Established players are already trying mightily to avoid fraud and corruption and Agora’s claim, no matter how plausible, further muddies those waters. Was Agora simply attempting a PR stunt in support of its upcoming token sale. That’s unclear.

This is definitely a strong signal about the trajectory of healthcare - The key Question is will this be another platform that privatizes the data and the benefits or will our Governments smell the coffee and move to provide the public infrastructure, protocols, security and distributed benefits for health research and insurance for all?

Tech's Next Big Wave: Big Data Meets Biology

It Began in December, with CVS’s proposed $69 billion buyout of insurer Aetna. In January, three more corporate behemoths—Amazon, JPMorgan Chase, and Berkshire Hathaway—said they were forming a joint venture aimed at reducing health care costs and improving outcomes for their combined 1 million or so employees. Then, in March, Cigna said it would buy pharmacy benefits manager Express Scripts for more than $50 billion.

What’s driving this frenzy of health care–related dealmaking? On first glance you might think it’s merely the pursuit of mass itself. Of “scale,” as management types like to say. But in truth, there’s a more powerful catalyst—one so gargantuan and infinitesimal at the same time that it sounds like the answer to a riddle. And that’s data.

More specifically, it’s your data: your individual biology, your health history and ever-fluctuating state of well-being, where you go, what you spend, how you sleep, what you put in your body and what comes out. The amount of data you slough off everyday—in lab tests, medical images, genetic profiles, liquid biopsies, electrocardiograms, to name just a few—is overwhelming by itself. Throw in the stuff from medical claims, clinical trials, prescriptions, academic research, and more, and the yield is something on the order of 750 quadrillion bytes every day—or some 30% of the world’s data production. These massive storehouses of information have always been there. But now, thanks to a slew of novel technologies, sophisticated measuring devices, ubiquitous connectivity and the cloud, and yes, artificial intelligence, companies can harness and make sense of this data as never before. “It’s not the data,” says Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute. “It’s the analytics. Up until three-to-five years ago, all that data was just sitting there. Now it’s being analyzed and interpreted. It’s the most radical change happening in health care.”

This is an interesting piece by a great list of contributors regarding the ‘state of the science on fake news’.

The science of fake news

Addressing fake news requires a multidisciplinary effort
The rise of fake news highlights the erosion of long-standing institutional bulwarks against misinformation in the internet age. Concern over the problem is global. However, much remains unknown regarding the vulnerabilities of individuals, institutions, and society to manipulations by malicious actors. A new system of safeguards is needed. Below, we discuss extant social and computer science research regarding belief in fake news and the mechanisms by which it spreads. Fake news has a long history, but we focus on unanswered scientific questions raised by the proliferation of its most recent, politically oriented incarnation. Beyond selected references in the text, suggested further reading can be found in the supplementary materials.

By David M. J. Lazer, Matthew A. Baum, Yochai Benkler, Adam J. Berinsky, Kelly M. Greenhill, Filippo Menczer, Miriam J. Metzger, Brendan Nyhan, Gordon Pennycook, David Rothschild, Michael Schudson, Steven A. Sloman, Cass R. Sunstein, Emily A. Thorson, Duncan J. Watts, Jonathan L. Zittrain

Here is an important warning from the creator of the Web software Tim Berners-Lee

The web can be weaponised – and we can't count on big tech to stop it

It’s dangerous having a handful of companies control how ideas and opinions are shared. A regulator may be needed
[As], the world wide web turns 29. This year marks a milestone in the web’s history: for the first time, we will cross the tipping point when more than half of the world’s population will be online.
When I share this exciting news with people, I tend to get one of two concerned reactions:
- How do we get the other half of the world connected?
- Are we sure the rest of the world wants to connect to the web we have today?

The threats to the web today are real – from misinformation and questionable political advertising to a loss of control over our personal data. But I remain committed to making sure the web is a free, open, creative space – for everyone.

That vision is only possible if we get everyone online, and make sure the web works for people. I founded the Web Foundation to fight for the web’s future. Here’s where we must focus our efforts:

This is a good conversation that briefly summarizes the current state and trajectory of 3D printing and the field of possibles around it.
Everyone thinks of 3-D printing, but it’s much more than that. My brother Neil’s analogy is that the 3-D printer is to digital fabrication what the microwave was in the 1970s to the kitchen of the future. It’s just one product. There’s also digital laser cutters, 3-D scanners, 3-D milling machines, computer design software; there’s so much more.
If you think back to when computers filled entire rooms, they numbered in the thousands. Fab labs are today’s equivalent: they now fill entire rooms and number in the thousands. Over the next 50 years, the size of the equipment will shrink and the capabilities will be more multifunctional, and it’s that capability that is doubling approximately every 18 months.

Heller author interview: "Designing Reality: How to Survive and Thrive in the Third Digital Revolution"

Heller Communications met with Professor Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld for an interview about his new book, "Designing Reality: How to Survive and Thrive in the Third Digital Revolution" (Basic Books, 2017), which he coauthored with his two brothers: Neil Gershenfeld, director of the Center for Bits and Atoms at MIT, and Alan Gershenfeld, president of E-Line Media.

Together, they explore a not-so-distant future in which advances in digital fabrication technology allow anyone to make (almost) anything; a revolution that could promote self-sufficiency and democratize material goods if we make wise choices now, or deepen existing digital divides, if we don’t.

Starting with the three of us is the right place to start, actually. The book takes seriously this idea of the third digital revolution, which one of my brothers, Neil, has been a world leader in helping to bring about. Too often, stories about technology are just told about the technology—so this book pairs Neil’s technology story with my perspective as a social scientist, and my brother Alan’s work in humanities. Having a three-way conversation between science, social science and humanities is appropriate and all too rare.

The city of Pittsburgh has over 100 fab labs and maker spaces in schools, libraries, community colleges, and community centers.  It is an entire ecosystem involving over 2,000 educators in the region, with a focus on project-based learning. The initiative, entitled “Remake Learning” is weaving together ideas in what is now a global center for robotics in what was previously dying steel town.

Barcelona is having conversations about building neighborhood fabrication facilities, and the educational systems to go with them. In Detroit, Insight Focus has built a large central lab and a network of satellite labs focused on food permaculture; converting food deserts into food self-sufficiency, housing, and other basic needs.

In India, there’s a fab lab in a rural community that’s making incubators for chickens and other things to promote local self-sufficiency. In rural Africa, people are using fab labs to make extenders for the Internet. This goes back to the digital divide—you can have technology reach into more rural communities by designing the antenna and connections yourself.

The domestication of DNA advances new understandings of our history and the history of evolution. An unprecedented new tool in the advance of science that will continue to find new combinations of other fundamental advances. There are many political and cultural challenges inevitable in new understandings of our species - and the future will continue to change our understanding of the past. This is well worth the read.
The contact between people from Europe and Africa and the New World was a profound Earth-shattering event for our species, of course, in the last 500 years. But there have been profound and Earth-shattering events, again and again, every few thousand years in our history and that’s what ancient DNA is telling us.
if you actually take any serious look at this data, it just confounds every stereotype. It’s revealing that the differences among populations we see today are actually only a few thousand years old at most and that everybody is mixed.

Ancient DNA Is Rewriting Human (and Neanderthal) History

The genomes of the long dead are turning up all sorts of unexpected and controversial findings.
Geneticist David Reich used to study the living, but now he studies the dead.
The precipitating event came in the form of 40,000-year-old Neanderthal bones found in a Croatian cave. So well-preserved were the bones that they yielded enough DNA for sequencing, and it became Reich’s job in 2007 to analyze the DNA for signs that Neanderthals interbred with humans—a idea he was “deeply suspicious” of at the time.

In Europe where we have the best data currently—although that will change over the coming years—we know a lot about how people have migrated. We know of multiple layers of population replacement over the last 50,000 years. Between 41,000 and 39,000 years ago in western Europe, the Neanderthals were replaced by modern human populations. The first modern human samples we have in Europe are about 40,000 years old and are genetically not at all related to present-day Europeans. They seem to be from extinct, dead-end groups.

After that, you see for the first time people related to later European hunter-gatherers who have contributed a little bit to present-day Europeans. That happens beginning 35,000 to 37,000 years ago. Then the ice sheets descend across northern Europe and a lot of these populations are chased into these refuges in the southern peninsulas of Europe. After the Ice Age, there’s a repeopling of northern Europe from the southwest, probably from Spain, and then also from the southeast, probably from Greece and maybe even from Anatolia, Turkey.

Again, after 9,000 years ago, there’s a mass movement of farmers into the region which almost completely replaces the hunter-gatherers with a small amount of mixture.
And then again, after 5,000 years ago, there’s this mass movement at the beginning of the Bronze Age of people from the steppe, who also probably bring these languages that are spoken by the great majority of Europeans today.

This is another strong signal in the acceleration of our domestication of DNA, starting with the ability to sequence it - cheaply in the field.

Researchers Develop Pocket Sized Gene Sequencing Device

Using an emerging technology – a pocket sized, portable DNA sequencer - our scientists, in collaboration with other institutions, sequenced a complete human genome, in fragments hundreds of times larger than usual, enabling new biological insights.
A new nanopore technology for direct sequencing of long strands of DNA has resulted in the most complete human genome ever assembled with a single technology, scientists have announced.

In research published in Nature Biotechnology, involved scientists the Universities of Birmingham, Nottingham, East Anglia, California, Salt Lake City, British Columbia and Toronto, as well as NIH’s National Human Genome Research Institute.

Using an emerging technology – a pocket sized, portable DNA sequencer - the scientists sequenced a complete human genome, in fragments hundreds of times larger than usual, enabling new biological insights.
Furthermore, he ability to sequence using a portable device that only costs $1,000 may put also personalized genome sequencing into the mainstream.

This is a promising signal of advances in vision restoration as well as the emergence of human-cyborg 2.0 :)

Chinese Scientists Cure Blind Mice, Eye Human Tests

New procedure is applicable to a wide range of cases and cheaper than ever before.
Over the past decade, reversing blindness has gone from fantasy to reality — but the available treatments are few, and often prohibitively expensive. A team of Chinese scientists hopes to change that, however, with the advent of a potential cure for hereditary and age-related blindness at an unprecedented low cost.

Researchers from Fudan University in Shanghai successfully restored vision in blind mice by implanting artificial photoreceptors directly into their eyes, according to a paper published Tuesday in Nature Communications, a scientific journal under Nature. Made of titanium dioxide nanowires coated with gold nanoparticles, the photoreceptors generate an electric current when exposed to light, which in turn stimulates nearby neurons to restore the visual response.

“Nanomaterials are very thin, and ocular implantation surgeries are highly practical in clinical contexts,” said Zhang Jiayi, a corresponding author on the paper and a lead researcher at Fudan’s State Key Laboratory of Medical Neurobiology. “As such, the application of this research on the blind will be simple and convenient,” she told Sixth Tone.

According to Zhang, the team’s artificial photoreceptors cost as little as 1 yuan ($0.16) to produce, and do not require batteries or electronic devices as other ocular prosthesis do.

The Chinese researchers’ five-month in vivo mouse implantation experiment has also reported reactions to certain colors — a never-before-seen outcome in previous experiments with retina-nanowire interfaces, which only resulted in recovered perception of light and dark.

This is a good signal of the emerging energy paradigm and change in energy geopolitics.
“California is going to create a blueprint for the coming years,” said Michael Ferguson, the director of U.S. energy infrastructure at S&P Global Ratings in New York. “Renewables proliferated where there was supportive regulation, and that caused the costs to decline. I would expect to see the same thing to happen with battery storage.”

A New Era of Batteries Spells Trouble for Gas in America

California, the state that helped birth the global boom in battery-toting electric vehicles, is trying to spark a similar transformation for utilities. And that spells trouble for power plants all across the U.S. that run on natural gas.

The California Public Utilities Commission approved an order Thursday that will require PG&E Corp., the state’s biggest utility, to change the way it supplies power when demand peaks. Instead of relying on electricity from three gas-fired plants run by Calpine Corp., PG&E will have to use batteries or other non-fossil fuel resources to keep the lights on in the most-populated U.S. state.

The shift is possible in California partly because there’s a surplus of solar power, after a surge of rooftop panels and large-scale gathering systems helped double the renewable energy it used over the past decade. Batteries can charge up in daylight and dispense electricity later. With improved technology and lower costs, storage systems are becoming more viable for utilities, especially in a state hoping to get half its power from wind and solar by 2030 and targeting major cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

This is a weak signal well worth tracking given the change in energy geopolitics and the increasing importance of energy storage.

What’s A Proton Battery? Three Things You Need To Know.

Most of your everyday electronics run off of lithium batteries — you know, the ones that you can never seem to find in your drawer when the remote is dead? Yet the days of the double-A may be ending. Researchers at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia have created a prototype of an alternative battery that runs on carbon and water.

This is the first-ever rechargeable proton battery, an energy storage solution that runs off on cheap, environmentally friendly materials. But why do we need to change the way we store power? Here are three things you need to know about this energy source of the future, and about why it’s time to phase out those batteries currently rusting at the bottom of your recycling bin. (Don’t worry, we don’t know how to get rid of them either.)

The RMIT team estimates that their proton battery could be commercially available within five to ten years. That’s also good news for the environment, as battery storage needs are expected to skyrocket with the growing shift to clean energy. Without good batteries to store energy on sunny or windy days, we won’t be able to take advantage of these power sources when the weather turns. According to Andrews, when their battery is available, it will even be competitive with Tesla’s Powerwall, and perhaps one day the huge Tesla battery already making waves in his country.

There is accelerating activity in the emerging geopolitics of renewable energy - like all other frontiers of innovation progress is increasing combinations of technologies. This is a signal of how Blockchain technologies are being integrated into a new distributed paradigm of system administration of homeostasis.
Utilities are also thinking about making direct investments in blockchain companies as they experiment with use cases for transactive energy, customer billing, data collection and distributed resource management.  Centrica, RWE, Innogy and Tepco have made investments in blockchain startups within the last year. Many others are working with consortia like the Energy Web Foundation.

Energy Blockchain Startups Raised $324 Million in the Last Year. Where’s the Money Going?

There are a lot of use cases for blockchain the energy sector, but transactive energy dominates.
There are now 122 blockchain startups operating in the energy space. Since January of last year, 54 new firms have launched.

"There's a new company just about every week," said Colleen Metelitsa, a grid edge analyst at GTM Research who's been tracking activity in the space.

It's a sign that we're in some kind of bubble. But it's also a sign that blockchain is being taken seriously by energy companies. There are now over 70 demonstration projects deployed or planned around the world in the electricity industry alone, according to Metelitsa's tally.

The distinction between Blockchain technologies and Cryptocurrencies is a vital distinction in understanding the exponentially evolving domain.

Bank of International settlements warns against central bank cryptos

The Bank of International Settlements (BIS) - or the central banks’ central bank - has warned global central banks they could endanger the stability of the financial system if they create their own digital currency in a bid to quash competition from established cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum.

In its Committee on Payments and Market Infrastructures report, which looked at the potential of central bank digital currencies (CBDCs), it concluded that such a creation “would allow for [public] ‘digital runs’ toward the central bank with unprecedented speed and scale.”

The report comes ahead of the Group of 20 meeting in Buenos Aires  later this month which will set about addressing the issue of Bitcoin and cryptocurrency regulations.

Central banks lend digital currency only to retail banks and to the public in notes and coins so an unofficial fast-transacting cryptocurrency is a looming threat to the monopoly central banks have on the supply and creation of money. Arguably the Bank of International Settlements could also take this same view of a CBDC as a threat to its own liquidity providing function if an economy was to go completely cashless.

Would self-flying cars be less of a challenge than self-driving cars? Or how long after we become used to self-driving cars will we want self-flying electric cars?
Mr. Page’s ambitions to create taxis in the sky has a sense of gravity, excuse the pun, not just because of his deep pockets and the technological prowess of his team but also because of Mr. Reid, who is a former chief executive of Virgin America. Before that he was president of Delta Air Lines and president of Lufthansa Airlines, where he was co-architect of the Star Alliance.

Larry Page’s Flying Taxis, Now Exiting Stealth Mode

Since October, a mysterious flying object has been seen moving through the skies over the South Island of New Zealand. It looks like a cross between a small plane and a drone, with a series of small rotor blades along each wing that allow it to take off like a helicopter and then fly like a plane. To those on the ground, it has always been unclear whether there was a pilot aboard.

Well, it turns out that the airborne vehicle has been part of a series of “stealth” test flights by a company personally financed by Larry Page, the co-founder of Google and now the chief executive of Google’s parent, Alphabet.

The company, known as Kitty Hawk and run by Sebastian Thrun, who helped start Google’s autonomous car unit as the director of Google X, has been testing a new kind of fully electric, self-piloting flying taxi. This is an altogether different project from the one you might have seen last year in a viral video of a single-pilot recreational aircraft that was being tested over water, and it’s much more ambitious.

A new world of quantum applications is emerging - computing, communications, materials. This is a good signal furthering the speed of the arrival of quantum computing.

Entangled LED first to operate in the telecom window

Researchers have demonstrated the first quantum light-emitting diode (LED) that emits single photons and entangled photon pairs with a wavelength of around 1550 nm, which lies within the standard telecommunications window. A single-photon source that operates at this wavelength is expected to serve as a key component in future quantum networks, long-distance quantum communication systems, quantum cryptography devices, and other applications.

The researchers, Tina Müller et al., at Toshiba Research Europe Limited, the University of Sheffield, and the University of Cambridge, have published a paper on the new quantum light source in a recent issue of Nature Communications.
"For the first time, quantum devices can meet the fundamental requirements of state-of-the art quantum key distribution and quantum communication systems," Müller told

The ability to emit single photons and entangled photon pairs in the telecom window has been a goal in the field of quantum optics for a long time. Although a variety of different light sources exist that can emit single and entangled photons (from individual atoms to color centers in diamond), until now they have been largely limited to shorter wavelengths that are unsuitable for quantum network applications.

This is another important signal about the emerging power of the politics of polarization and social media platforms. The digital environment is evolving rapidly with very significant consequences - for good and ill. The need for greater transparency is ever more important if society wants to harness the positive and avoid the most dire of the negatives. This is a worthwhile read that shed light on how Facebook provides the power to influence to its real clients - marketers and others.
Facebook has a piece of ad real estate that it’s auctioning off, and potential advertisers submit a piece of ad creative, a targeting spec for their ideal user, and a bid for what they’re willing to pay to obtain a desired response (such as a click, a like, or a comment). Rather than simply reward that ad position to the highest bidder, though, Facebook uses a complex model that considers both the dollar value of each bid as well as how good a piece of clickbait (or view-bait, or comment-bait) the corresponding ad is. If Facebook’s model thinks your ad is 10 times more likely to engage a user than another company’s ad, then your effective bid at auction is considered 10 times higher than a company willing to pay the same dollar amount.


Why Russia’s Facebook ads were less important to Trump’s victory than his own Facebook ads.
Last Friday, Rob Goldman, a vice president inside Facebook’s Ads team, rather ill-advisedly published a series of tweets that seemed to confirm the Trump administration’s allegations regarding the recent indictments of 13 Russian nationals by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. To wit, the tweets said that the online advertising campaign led by the shadowy Internet Research Agency was meant to divide the American people, not influence the 2016 election.

You’re probably skeptical of Rob’s claim, and I don’t blame you. The world looks very different to people outside the belly of Facebook’s monetization beast. But when you’re on the inside, like Rob is and like I was, and you have access to the revenue dashboards detailing every ring of the cash register, your worldview tends to follow what advertising data can and cannot tell you.

From this worldview, it's still not clear how much influence the IRA had with its Facebook ads (which, as others have pointed out, is just one small part of the huge propaganda campaign that Mueller is currently investigating). But no matter how you look at them, Russia’s Facebook ads were almost certainly less consequential than the Trump campaign’s mastery of two critical parts of the Facebook advertising infrastructure: The ads auction, and a benign-sounding but actually Orwellian product called Custom Audiences (and its diabolical little brother, Lookalike Audiences). Both of which sound incredibly dull, until you realize that the fate of our 242-year-old experiment in democracy once depended on them, and surely will again.

This is a very interesting look and the challenges and opportunities that are and will emerging in the next century. What is always important to include in any analysis of the future - is the impact of climate change of course - but also the continued development of all forms of technology and the potential for improving human governance in light of both challenge and opportunity.

The Conquest of Climate

How bad will climate change be? Not very.
No, this isn’t a denialist screed. Human greenhouse emissions will warm the planet, raise the seas and derange the weather, and the resulting heat, flood and drought will be cataclysmic.

Cataclysmic—but not apocalyptic. While the climate upheaval will be large, the consequences for human well-being will be small. Looked at in the broader context of economic development, climate change will barely slow our progress in the effort to raise living standards.

To see why, consider a 2016 Newsweek headline that announced “Climate change could cause half a million deaths in 2050 due to reduced food availability.” The story described a Lancetstudy, “Global and regional health effects of future food production under climate change,” [1] that made dire forecasts: by 2050 the effects of climate change on agriculture will shrink the amount of food people eat, especially fruits and vegetables, enough to cause 529,000 deaths each year from malnutrition and related diseases. The report added grim specifics to the familiar picture of a world made hot, hungry, and barren by the coming greenhouse apocalypse.

But buried beneath the gloomy headlines was a curious detail: the study also predicts that in 2050 the world will be better fed than ever before. The “reduced food availability” is only relative to a 2050 baseline when food will be more abundant than now thanks to advances in agricultural productivity that will dwarf the effects of climate change. Those advances on their own will raise per-capita food availability to 3,107 kilocalories per day; climate change could shave that to 3,008 kilocalories, but that’s still substantially higher than the benchmarked 2010 level of 2,817 kilocalories—and for a much larger global population. Per-capita fruit and vegetable consumption, the study estimated, will rise by 6.1 percent and meat consumption by 5.4 percent. The poorest countries will benefit most, with food availability rising 14 percent in Africa and Southeast Asia. Even after subtracting the 529,000 lives theoretically lost to climate change, the study estimates that improved diets will save a net 1,348,000 lives per year in 2050.