‘[I]t is not enough for democracy to be radical; it must be revolutionary’ argues Wayne Price
One of Winston Churchill’s most notable lines was:
No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.
At the turn of the 20th century, there were fewer than ten democracies in the world. By the turn of the 21st, that number had reached 80, with half of humanity governed by some form of democracy. Yet, we’ve grown astutely aware of the flaws in the system in the past two years, with some calling for an end to democracy.
Recent successes in deploying AI point to a crucial challenge the field is facing
I read Martin Wolf’s wonderful essay about the challenges facing government in the light of significant labour displacements. Last week there were two relevant, but distinct, announcements from Babylon Health and OpenAI. I aimed to connect the dots between these in the latest issue of my weekly newsletter Exponential View. (Read the issue | Subscribe)
First, Babylon: the company announced that their AI-based chatbot had performed better than the typical British GP (a GP is a generalist physician rather than a specialist) on the qualifying exams run by the Royal College of General Practitioners. Babylon’s bot scored 81% on a test where humans averaged 72%, although there are some methodology issues. You can read a news story here, and the research paper, which I’ve skimmed, here.
There is a notion worth revisiting: are nation states nearing their end as our preferred scale of the political and socio-economic organisation? This idea lies in contrast with the “end of history” theory of modernity, first posited by the American political scientist Francis Fukuyama.
I’ve found the question of evolving the nation-state fascinating since the early 1990s when I first came across ideas of decentralised forms of organisation enabled by new electronic networks (and was contemporaneously studying political institutions and models of governance).
More people are getting vocal against the dominance of big tech—this is my selection of some of the most thoughtful pieces from the past week.
I’ve raised the questions on societal risks of the dominance of a handful of internet giants from the early days of starting my newsletter. It’s good that it is getting mainstream attention. My friends at The Economist have put together a must-read memo to the bosses of Amazon, Facebook and Google:
You are an industry that embraces acronyms, so let me explain the situation with a new one: “BAADD”. You are thought to be too big, anti-competitive, addictive and destructive to democracy.
A pivotal year for business and its role in society.
So many predictions from so many smart people these days. When I started doing these posts fifteen years ago, prognostication wasn’t much in the air. But a host of way-smarter-than-me folks are doing it now, and I have to admit I read them all before I sat down to do my own. So in advance, thanks to Fred, to Azeem, to Scott, and Alexis, among many others.
So let’s get into it. Regular readers know that while I think about these predictions in the back of my mind for months, I usually just sit down and write them at one sitting. That’s what happened a year ago, when I predicted that 2017 would see the tech industry lose its charmed status. It certainly did, and nearly everyone is predicting more of the same for 2018. So I won’t focus on the entire industry this year, as much as on specific companies and trends. Here we go….
Last night, as I was falling asleep after a lovely Christmas, a thought popped into my head. I was thinking how lovely the holiday had been, and part of that was because I’d not been on the internet most of the day. Furthermore, most people hadn’t been on the internet all day. And it really made for a better day. I had recently lost an eBay auction on a copy of The Whole Earth Catalog — I’ve been thinking about how influential it was, and realized copies were still relatively affordable and it’d be fun to add a few issues to my old magazines collection.
These two lines of thinking merged together, and I wondered something to myself. And as I was going to sleep at the new-parent hour of 8:30 PM, I tweeted that thought:
Mom always wanted a Lexus truck. She would talk about it incessantly, cooing about her “baby shoe” whenever one of the Japanese luxury upstarts shot by us on I-395 as she drove me to school. My eyes would roll, teenaged broodiness blinding me to another of Mom’s uncountable sacrifices; she couldn’t have her baby shoe because she was spending all her money sending me to this school. Money likely unimaginable to her as a Black farmer’s daughter growing up in the Virginia Tidewater. A successful farmer, even.
Her father, a stout and handsome man with skin the color of rich soil, quit his well-paying job as a cooper in North Carolina at the ripe old age of 20, relocating to Virginia to build a house on the farm his mother bought in 1914. A new house in Depression-era Virginia was peculiar. For that house to belong to a Black man sounded like a fish story. Strangers travelled for miles to watch Coston Beamon pound nails into his roof.
Smartening up our global auto fleets would required the equivalent of increasing the iPhone industry by at least five-fold.
In one of our Medium Premium series created in conjunction with noted authors and journalists, Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Computing, by AI expert Azeem Azhar, explores the role of society if we ever want to get serious about Artificial Intelligence in our lifetimes. In the first part of the exclusive series (membership is required, but Medium does have a “metered paywall’’), Azhar discusses how artificial intelligence is ramping up the demand for computing cycles.
You can read the first entry here, which discusses the demands machine learning-like applications are going to make on available computing processing. The second entry, found here, explores how the demands of AI will drive two shifts: the resurgence of the processing on the edge, and the arrival of new processing architectures.
It is a warm autumn morning, and I am walking through downtown Mountain View, California, when I see it. A small vehicle that looks like a cross between a golf cart and a Jetsonesque bubble-topped spaceship glides to a stop at an intersection. Someone is sitting in the passenger seat, but no one seems to be sitting in the driver seat. How odd, I think. And then I realize I am looking at a Google car. The technology giant is headquartered in Mountain View, and the company is road-testing its diminutive autonomous cars there.
This is my first encounter with a fully autonomous vehicle on a public road in an unstructured setting.
“We are suffering just now from a bad attack of economic pessimism. It is common to hear people say that the epoch of enormous economic progress which characterized the 19th century is over; that the rapid improvement in the standard of life is now going to slow down — at any rate in Great Britain; that a decline in prosperity is more likely than an improvement in the decade which lies ahead of us.
I believe that this is a wildly mistaken interpretation of what is happening to us. We are suffering, not from the rheumatics of old age, but from the growing-pains of over-rapid changes, from the painfulness of readjustment between one economic period and another…”
John Maynard Keynes, Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren (1930)