Genetic Selection

It seems to me….

With the advent of genetic engineering, the time required for the evolution of new species may literally collapse.” ~ Dee Hock[1].

Evolutionary change has always been a long slow process extending over millennia but that is about to change due to the development of new, efficient, and relatively easy-to-use genetic modification techniques such as CRISPR. “Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats” known by its acronym, CRISPR, is a new gene-splicing technique and one of the most important developments in recent years. It already has opened new methods to render viruses inactive, regulate cell activity, create disease resistant crops, and even engineer yeast to produce ethanol that can fuel our cars; it also has provided the ability to accurately and efficiently “edit” the human genome in both embryos and adults.

Most medical procedures still remain overly intrusive and considerable work remains to understand physiological dependencies – but that is about to change. Scientists created the first full full map of the human genome in 2003; continuing reductions in the cost of genetic analysis are key to many significant advances. Once there is an available genetic database for about 100,000 individuals, big data analytics could examine large amounts of data to uncover hidden patterns, correlations, and other insights enabling more accurate diagnosis and treatment. Of course, in addition to genomes, full digital availability of all patient physiological and psychological records, treatments, and results also would be necessary which most likely would encounter opposition from both doctors and patients even if fully anonymized.

When the cost for full genetic sequencing declines to less than $200, it probably will be required for all newborns. The cost for required selective gene testing is currently around $80 but mandatory tests differ from state to state so the price-differential should be acceptable to insurance companies.

As millions and then billions of people have their genomes sequenced as part of standard health care and these people’s genomes are compared to their life experience, scientists will deploy big data analytics to uncover how certain genetic and epigenetic patterns increase the probabilities of various outcomes[2].

As significant an advancement as this is, it still represents only an initial step toward full understanding of this process. Gene expression is the process by which information from a gene is used in the synthesis of a functional gene product. These products are often proteins, but in non-protein coding genes such as transfer RNA (tRNA) or small nuclear RNA (snRNA) genes, the product is a functional RNA. Full understanding will require substantial additional research.

There is not yet any absolute answer to the nature-nurture debate and still impossible to precisely determine what percentage of our traits are based on our genes. Scientists have estimated based on twin studies, however, that the range is somewhere between 50-80 percent. Some traits are genetically simple, perhaps only influenced by one or more genes. Others, such as height and intelligence, are more complex and influenced by thousands.

Where spectrum preimplantation genetic screening (PGS) assessment for trait selection is permitted, parents will be informed of the probabilities of likely outcomes from among their pre-implanted embryos when deciding which of them to implant. Some embryos will be identified as having a greater than normal expectation of being superior at math, an exceptionally fast runner, or a super-empathic child. The more we know of genomics, the more accurate these predictions will become.

The possibility of assisted reproduction will admittedly alarm some people. Many individuals, groups, and countries may choose to opt out for very legitimate reasons. But competition within and between countries will drive the adoption of embryo selection inexorably forward. Once it is considered safe, parents will not want their children to be left behind as IQ levels across the population increase or the average height becomes taller due to embryo selection. Countries will fear losing competitiveness if they opt out while other states opt in.

But no matter what is or is not done, the human species has rounded a corner in our evolutionary process. Embryo selection is only the beginning of this transformation. Our genetically altered future has already begun.

Embryo selection, in connection with in-vitro fertilization (IVF), has been available since 1978. Starting in the 1990s, doctors began using PGS to extract cells from early-stage embryos and screen them for simple genetic diseases. We now have the basic ability to eliminate many genetic diseases, extend healthy lifespans, and enhance people’s overall well-being; an ability that will be wide-spread and viable within the next twenty-five years.

Gene transfer can be targeted to somatic (body) or germ (egg and sperm) cells. In somatic gene transfer the recipient’s genome is changed but the change is not passed on to the next generation. With germline gene transfer, the parents’ egg or sperm cells are changed so as to pass on any changes to their offspring.

At present, over a thousand such diseases, including cystic fibrosis, Huntington’s disease, Tay-Sachs, sickle-cell anemia, and Duchenne muscular dystrophy can be screened during PGS and the list is constantly growing. With this information, parents using IVF and PGS can select embryos not carrying those diseases if they so choose. Some jurisdictions, including the U.S., Mexico, Italy, and Thailand, additionally permit parents to select the gender of their future children.

The ability to prevent genetic disease will catalyze the adoption of embryo screening across the population but use of the technology will not end there. When cells taken from early-stage embryos are fully sequenced during PGS, they will provide information about all genetically influenced traits, not just those related to disease.

Most biomedical interventions, whether successful or not, have attempted to restore something perceived to be deficient, such as vision, hearing, or mobility but have tended to be relatively modest and incremental. Now, with scientific developments in areas such as biotechnology, information technology, and nanotechnology, humanity may have reached that point where enhancement revolution is prompted by ongoing efforts to aid people with disabilities and heal the sick. Science is making rapid progress in new restorative and therapeutic technologies that could, in theory, have implications for human enhancement[3].

While currently primarily still only an area of research, the basic foundation is being developed eventually leading to widespread use. Once science provides the means to start editing the code of life, where does it stop? There are ways to make cells virus-resistant, prion-resistant, cancer-resistant. While not currently possible, it soon will be able to create designer babies with predetermined eye color, intelligence, and physical traits. Our cells do not make all the essential amino acids that are required to make our own proteins but it should be possible to put all the metabolic pathways to make those missing essential amino acids into a human cell.

While modifications of the human genome might initially be strongly opposed, especially by religious conservatives, it most likely already is occurring in more centrally-controlled illiberal nations such as China. Any opposition will necessarily acquiesce providing limited acceptance for medical applications for otherwise untreatable heritable diseases.

As genetic analysis becomes common and additional cause/effect relationships known, treatments will be developed to cure and prevent a rapidly lengthening list of maladies. Though there also is significant philosophical, ethical, and religious opposition to so-called transhumanism, advocates predict that instead of leaving a person’s physical well-being to the vagaries of nature, science will allow us to take control of our species’ development, making ourselves and future generations stronger, smarter, healthier, and happier but obviously not without controversy. Any attempt to ban such research is ultimately unenforceable, impractical, and will only serve to delay general availability.

In July 2017, researchers at the Oregon Health and Sciences University used CRISPR, to “delete” a mutation linked to heart conditions from a human embryo. The mutation could have caused heart disease and heart failure so the technology was used to prevent an inherited disease from spreading to future generations. The fact is that this is not something that might happen sometime in the future, human genes are already being edited.

It will become increasingly difficult to differentiate between treatment critical to saving a life and what is merely beneficial to the quality of life. Given the current prevalence of obesity, would genetic elimination of any tendency toward endomorphism be acceptable? Would genetic reduction of drug or alcohol dependence tendencies be permitted?

An Asilomar Conference on Recombinant DNA held in February 1975 at a conference center at Asilomar State Beach discussed potential biohazards and regulation of biotechnology. This technology entails the joining of DNA from different species and the subsequent insertion of the hybrid DNA into a host cell. Principles guiding the recommendations for how to conduct experiments using this technology safely were established at the conference.

Many researches express concern about insertion of non-human DNA but it would be considered extremely significant if a gene was found that e.g., could allow regeneration of lost limbs. The Caudata, an order of tailed amphibians including salamanders and newts, is possibly the most adept vertebrate group at regeneration given their capability of regenerating limbs, tails, jaws, eyes and a variety of internal structures. If a gene was found that could provide this ability to humans without negative side effects, insertion probably would encounter only minor objection.

Synthetic biologists are researching methods to construct novel organisms from scratch for an array of purposes in medicine, energy, agriculture, and other fields. One such project, the Human Genome Project-write (or GP-write, as the project is known), aims to use these same tools to build a much more familiar organism: a human cell, complete with all the DNA required to produce more human cells. Mastery of this technique could wipe out diseases and bring about other applications we can’t yet imagine. It would be the ultimate engineering blueprint for life.

At some point, the line is crossed and necessary treatment leads to desirable characteristics. Parental (and possibly the state) insistence will result in general acceptance of so-called “designer babies” with highly desired attributes: intelligence, athleticism, appearance…. Totally synthetic babies will come in the future when the timing is right, the tools are available, the technology is affordable and sufficiently reliable. Someone somewhere will pioneer that particular project and there isn’t any way to prevent it.

There isn’t any way to predict what a world devoid of physical, mental, or genetic defects would be like – but the door is now open to finding out. We now have the ability to control not only our own evolutionary future but also that of every living creature on the planet.

That’s what I think, what about you?

[1] Dee Ward Hock is the founder and former CEO of the Visa credit card association.

[2] Metzi, Jamie. By The Year 2040, Embryo Selection Could Replace Sex As The Way Most Of Us Make Babies, Kurzweil.AI.net, http://www.kurzweilai.net/by-the-year-2040-embryo-selection-could-replace-sex-as-the-way-most-of-us-make-babies?utm_source=KurzweilAI+Weekly+Newsletter&utm_campaign=d4cc589973-UA-946742-1&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_147a5a48c1-d4cc589973-282211389, 9 May 2016.

[3] Masci, David. Human Enhancement, Pew Research Center, http://www.pewinternet.org/2016/07/26/human-enhancement-the-scientific-and-ethical-dimensions-of-striving-for-perfection/?utm_source=Pew+Research+Center&utm_campaign=9dca022fe6-_Weekly_July_28_20167_28_2016&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_3e953b9b70-9dca022fe6-400092341, 26 July 2016.

Advertisements
Posted in Amphibians, Asilomar Conference on Recombinant DNA, Asilomar State Beach, biological evolution, Caudata, China, CRISPR, Cystic Fibrosis, Deoxyribonucleic Acid, Disease, DNA, Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, Embryo, Epigenetic, Evolution, Evolution, Fertilization, Gene Therapy, Gene Transfer, Genes, Genetic Analysis, Genetic Sequencing, Genetics, Genomes, Genomics, germ, Health, Huntington’s Disease, In Vitro, In-Vitro Fertilization, Intelligence, Italy, IVF, medical, Mexico, newts, Oregon Health and Sciences University, Physiology, Psychology, Religion, Ribonucleic Acid, RNA, Salamanders, Science, Sex, Sex, Sickle-Cell Anemia, snRNA, Somatic, Sperm, Tay-Sachs, Thailand, tRNA | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Growth In Renewable Energy

It seems to me….

The future is green energy, sustainability, renewable energy.” ~ Arnold Schwarzenegger[1].

Wind and solar power exceeded 10 percent of the total U.S. electrical energy generation for the first time in March 2017 and is projected to exceed 30 percent by the end of 2018. The national power grid has rapidly evolved and improved in recent years as utility companies have developed innovative ways to move electrical power around the country to account for weather fluctuations. Battery technology is now capable of storing sufficient energy for when renewable sources are not adequate and natural gas is available as an emergency backup to provide immediate supplementary power if necessary.

Microgrids, rather than large regional power production facilities; incorporating solar panels, batteries, and a link to the electrical grid for when power production is either insufficient or exceeds current requirements; are more sustainable, costs less, and produce lower emissions than larger power generating facilities. This technology allows communities to collect, store, and use their own energy rather than be dependent upon power sources located elsewhere. Microgrids also are more resistant to outages from blackouts or cyber-attacks as they can be isolated from the grid when necessary providing resiliency and frugality while reducing dependency upon more expensive (and carbon based) diesel for backup generation.

Unfortunately, the Trump administration opposes the transition of U.S. power dependence to renewable sources apparently believing that to meet peak demand, it is necessary to have hydrocarbons, primarily coal, to rely on. A Trump Department of Energy study has recommended overturning current renewable-energy standards set by local and state governments. While it is unlikely they will be able to entirely reverse the shift to renewable energy sources, they could slow the rapid acceleration of its growth by shifting public-funded investment away from renewables and back into hydrocarbons.

This is at a time when China has become one of the world’s leading producers of wind turbines and solar panels with government subsidies enabling its companies to become cost-efficient and global in their aspirations. In 2015, China was home to the world’s top wind-turbine maker and the top two solar-panel manufacturers. According to a recent report from the United Nations, China invested $78.3 billion in renewable energy last year – almost twice as much as the U.S.

Now Beijing is making a push into electric vehicles (EVs) and has taken a large lead in that field hoping to dominate what it believes will be the transport industry of the future. In 2016, more than twice as many EVs were sold in China as in the U.S., an astonishing catch-up for a country that had almost no such technologies 10 years ago. China’s leaders have let it be known that by 2025 they want 20 percent of all new vehicles sold in China to be powered by alternative fuels. All of this has already translated into jobs, “big league” as Trump might say: 3.6 million people are already working in the renewable-energy sector in China, compared with only 777,000 in the U.S.

China watched and learned from the U.S. as technological revolutions dramatically increased the supply and lowered the cost of natural gas and solar energy. It has now decided to put a much larger emphasis on this route to energy security; one that also ensures it will be the world’s leading producer of clean energy.

The U.S. needs to quickly eliminate all fossil fuel subsidies and focus on making renewable energy less expensive and more competitive through research and development. Once the price of green energy has been innovated down below the price of fossil fuels, adoption will rapidly expand. While green technologies are not yet fully mature or competitive, they deserve the opportunity to compete on a fair and even field.

Beijing is getting its growth by focusing on the future: economics and technology. The U.S. under Trump seems committed to engaged in a futile and quixotic quest to revive the industries of the past.

That’s what I think, what about you?

[1] Arnold Alois Schwarzenegger is an actor (and former professional bodybuilder), producer, businessman, investor, author, philanthropist, activist, and politician who served two terms as the 38th Governor of California and holds both Austrian and U.S. citizenship.

Posted in Batteries, Beijing, China, Electric Vehicles, Electrical, Employment, Employment, Energy, Environment, EVs, Funding, Grid, Microgrids, Natural Gas, Photovoltaic, Power, Solar, Solar, Solar, United Nations, Wind, Wind | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Positive Economics And International Trade

It seems to me….

The first lesson of economics is scarcity: there is never enough of anything to fully satisfy all those who want it. The first lesson of politics is to disregard the first lesson of economics.” ~ Thomas Sowell[1].

The basic principle of positive economics, based on comparative advantages, favors globalization and free-trade as it benefits the greatest number of people (normative economics makes a value judgement evaluating the concerns of displaced workers disproportionately over the global overall benefit). Globalization is more than simply trade between nations. Nations also interact economically in various other ways: investors invest funds in other countries, many international companies have subsidiaries operating in multiple countries, individuals work in countries in which they are not citizens….

Admittedly, the global economy has not created prosperity for everyone. While globalization has lifted millions out of poverty, income disparities already wide are further widening even in wealthy nations. Less wealthy nations are in dire need of basic necessities: food, water, housing….

The U.S. is experiencing not only exponential growth in technology but somewhat similar changes in many other areas of society. The forces of technological advancement enable the automation and computerization that impact employment not only creating new categories of employment but eliminating others in the process. Globalization which provides new items at reduced costs, though frequently viewed as impacting employment through offshoring, is beneficial to everyone though some isolated areas remain negatively affected by diminished employment possibilities.

The effects of these changes are accelerating at an exponential rate to the point where many people now are experiencing difficulty accommodating them. No longer is a high school diploma adequate preparation for the many new employment positions becoming available. Those without a college degree increasingly find themselves competing for lower-paying positions with an increasing number of other under-educated applicants. In many ways, the 2016 U.S. Presidential election represented a rejection of the accelerating agents of change which have left many falling behind in a world changing too rapidly. Societal structures have failed to keep up with this rate of change. For the first time in our nation’s history, many of the current generation can anticipate a lower quality of life that their parent’s generation.

Outsourcing is where U.S. companies leverage fast, free, simple, and ubiquitous connectivity to hire large numbers of relatively cheap employees anywhere in the world to solve American problems. While many politicians, especially liberals, erroneously attempt to blame outsourcing for a significant reduction in U.S.-based manufacturing employment, 87.8 percent of the manufacturing jobs lost in the U.S. between 2000 and 2010 resulted from automation and improved technology rather than outsourcing or globalization[2].

There are a number of fallacies involving international trade. For example: the pauper-labor fallacy is the belief that when a country with high-wages imports items produced in a country with low-wage workers that it eliminates jobs in the high-wage country. The pauper fallacy is that trade harms workers in exporting countries who work in sweatshop environments at very low wages relative to the high-wage country. Both of these are false.

Both liberals and conservative – for entirely different reasons – oppose loss of labor-intensive employment opportunities to third-world nations but given those nation’s low productivity, lack of infrastructure, and development lag, it is not reasonable to demand wage and working-condition parity as a pre-condition to accepting a nation’s products. The only result would be to prevent any incremental improvement in both nation’s living standards. Given time, wages and environment tend to improve resulting in greater worker parity regardless of location. It is much better to concentrate on continued improvement within our own country which is far from perfect rather than being critical of faults we see elsewhere in the world[3].

A competitive market at its equilibrium point is normally the most efficient method to manage the trade of items regardless of whether that trade is between individuals or nations. This does not, however, address the issue of equity – what everyone agrees to as being fair.

Foreign trade results in the cost of imports equaling the world price based on demand/supply curves. If that price is lower than the domestic price, then the economy experiences an overall gain as the consumer surplus gain exceeds the producer surplus loss. Similarly, a higher world price than domestic price results in exports (and an increase in domestic price) but again an economic benefit accrues as producer surplus gain exceeds any consumer surplus losses.

International trade allows each country to specialize in producing items in which it has a comparative advantage. Overall, international trade results in an expansion of exports and contraction of import-competing companies dependent upon the countries plentiful or scarce resources. U.S. exports have resulted from the availability of a highly educated work force; its imports primarily result from lower-cost workers in other countries. An open global economy is not a zero-sum game but rather allows the U.S. economy to prosper and of other nations to improve.

U.S. exports tend to be educated human-capital intensive and U.S. imports tend to be unskilled labor intensive. The effect of international trade on U.S. factor markets is therefore to raise the wage rate of highly educated U.S. workers and reduce the wage rate of unskilled U.S. workers. Consequently, there is an overall consumer benefit from international trade though it might negatively affect a minority of producers and primarily lower-educated workers.

Despite Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and threats to pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), neither deal is dead. The remaining TPP members revived the idea of trans-Pacific trade at the Asia-Pacific Economic Partnership (APEC) summit in November, making significant progress without the U.S. toward what is now known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). Even as extreme U.S. demands stall NAFTA renegotiations, U.S. public support for NAFTA increased in 2017, pressuring the Trump administration not to withdraw from the agreement.

While the U.S. has abdicated global trade leadership, the European Union (EU) has made progress on several important agreements of its own, notably one with Japan, encompassing countries that account for over 30 percent of the world’s GDP. The EU-Japan agreement will reduce the ability of the U.S. to set world product standards and other regulations – disadvantaging U.S. exports in the process. In exercising his America First strategy, Trump has actually adversely affected U.S. businesses.

That’s what I think, what about you?

[1] Thomas Sowell is an American economist, turned social theorist, political philosopher, and author.

[2] Hicks, Michael J., and Srikant Devaraj. The Myth And The Reality Of Manufacturing In America, Ball State University, https://www.nist.gov/sites/default/files/documents/mep/data/MfgReality-1.pdf, June 2105.

[3]Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”, The Christian Bible, Matthew 7:3.

Posted in Automation, Automation, Automation, College, College, Comparative Advantage, Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership, Computerization, Consumer Surplus, CPTPP, Disparity, Education, Elections, Employment, Employment, Employment, employment, EU, EU, European Union, European Union, Exports, Globalization, Globalization, High School, Imports, Income, Inequality, Inequality, Japan, Japan, Jobs, Manufacturing, NAFTA, Normative Economics, normative EconomicsN, North American Free Trade Agreement, Off-Shoring, Off-Shoring, Offshoring, Outsourcing, Positive Economics, Producer Surplus, Technology, TPP, Trade, Trade, Trans-Pacific Partnership, Trump, University, Wages | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Middle-East Conundrum

It seems to me….

If we’ve learned anything from 15 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s that local people and nations have to secure their own communities. We can help them, and we should, but we cannot substitute for them.” ~ Hillary Clinton[1].

The civil war in Syria has resulted in the death of about 250,000 citizens with the country divided among those loyal to President Bashar Assad, various rebel groups, Kurdish militias, and Muslim extremist groups such as ISIS. Though the primary battle with ISIS might now essentially be over, continued force will not alone be sufficient to bring peace to Syria and Iraq. Military defeat of Saddam Hussein did not lead to peace in Iraq as insufficient effort was committed to thinking about the day after and how to govern for all Iraqis. To fully defeat Daesh, we need a comprehensive plan addressing the military, political, and humanitarian aspects of this tragedy.

One result of this conflict is that there now is a “lost generation” of Syrians[2]. There are an estimated 2.7 million Syrian children, 36 percent of Syrian refugee children just in the Lebanese Bekaa Valley, out of school and unable to either read nor write. A future Syria can never become a functioning state able to resist extremism if those children are never able to obtain an education.

The U.S. has traditionally viewed the Middle East through its own conceptual frameworks; dictatorships vs. democracy, secularism vs. religion, order vs. chaos; but that area has now become something totally different; Sunnis vs. Shiites; which now affects almost every aspect of the region’s politics. Sunnis, who make up 85 percent of all Muslims, have long dominated the Arab world, even in Shiite-majority countries such as Iraq and Bahrain, but that has now changed. Iraq, a major Arab state, is now ruled by Shiites.

While Republicans and Democrats usually attempt to place responsibility for the Middle East crisis and the rise of ISIS on each other; e.g., Middle East destabilization on the invasion of Iraq by Republican President Bush or the withdrawal of occupying troops from Iraq by Democratic President Obama; at least one study[3] attributes the actual causes of the Syrian civil war to climate change.

Higher temperatures resulted in increased severity of a prolonged regional drought, combined with the government’s refusal to adequately respond to crop failures and livestock deaths, forcing hundreds of people to migrate from their farms into cities such as Aleppo and Raqqa. These migrants resentful of the Syrian government and with little to lose, joined in anti-government protests that quickly became a civil war when government-backed forces began shooting the protestors. Extremist groups, such as ISIS, took advantage of the opportunity to exploit and organize the anti-Syrian forces.

A pivotal regional shift took place in 1979: the Islamic Revolution in Iran brought to power an aggressively religious ruling class determined to export its ideas and support Shiites in the region pushing the regime substantially to the religious right. This was strongly opposed by Saudi Arabia’s governing ideology of Wahhabi Islam which always was anti-Shiite from the time of its founding, demolishing Shiite mosques and shrines, and spreading its view that Shiites are heretics.

The single greatest threat to the U.S. emanating from the Middle East remains radical Sunni jihadists many of whom have drawn inspiration, funding, and doctrine from Saudi Arabia. The U.S. should not take sides in the broader sectarian struggle; this is someone else’s civil war.

Europe and the U.S. have made mistakes, but the misery of the Arab world has mostly resulted from its own failures[4]: Arabs are reverting to ethnic and religious identities. All this is not so much a clash of civilizations as a war within Arab civilization. Outsiders cannot fix it though their actions might make things a bit better – or considerably worse. First and foremost, a settlement must come from Arabs themselves[5].

When Sir Mark Sykes and François Georges-Picot secretly drew their lines on the map of the Levant to carve up the Ottoman empire in May 1916 at the height of the first world war, they could scarcely have imagined the chaos they were creating: a century of imperial betrayal and Arab resentment; instability, and coups; wars, displacement, occupation, and failed peacemaking in Palestine; and oppression, radicalism, and terrorism almost everywhere.

Many blame the mayhem on Western powers; from Sykes-Picot to the creation of Israel, the Franco-British takeover of the Suez Canal in 1956, and repeated U.S. interventions. Foreigners have often made things worse; the U.S.’s invasion of Iraq in 2003 released its sectarian demons. But the idea that the U.S. should turn away from the region, something Barack Obama seemed to embrace, can be as destabilizing as intervention as the catastrophe in Syria shows.

Redrawing the borders of Arab countries to create more stable states that match the ethnic and religious contours of the population is not feasible. There are no neat lines in a region where ethnic groups and sects can change from one village or even one street to the next. A new Sykes-Picot would potentially create as many injustices as it resolves and may provoke more bloodshed as all try to grab land and expel rivals.

Arab autocracy will never be capable of resisting extremism and chaos. In Egypt, Mr. Sisi’s rule has proven as oppressive as it is arbitrary and economically incompetent. Popular discontent is growing. In Syria, Bashar al-Assad and his allies would like to portray his regime as the only force that can control disorder. The contrary is true: Mr. Assad’s violence is the primary cause of the turmoil. Arab authoritarianism is no basis for stability. That much, at least, should have become clear from the uprisings of 2011.

This disarray is not the fault of Islam as Donald Trump and some U.S. conservatives seek to claim; that would be like blaming Christianity as the cause of Europe’s wars and murderous anti-Semitism: partly true, but of little practical help.

The enemy is radical Islam, not Islam in general, an ideology that has spread over the past four decades and now infects alienated young men and women across the Muslim world. The fight against it must at its core be against the ideology itself and that can be done only by Muslims – they alone can purge their faith of this extremism.

After a slow start, several important efforts are underway, perhaps more than generally realized. The world should recognize the variety of thought within Islam, support moderate trends, and challenge extremists. The West can help by encouraging these forces of reform, allying with them. and partnering in efforts to modernize their societies. But that is much less satisfying than hurling invectives, calling for bans on Muslims, and advocating carpet-bombing. Without Islam, no solution is likely to endure.

Similarly, putting 50 (or any other number) additional U.S. military on the ground in Syria or Afghanistan will not make any substantial difference in those on-going struggles and would only be the next step of incremental escalations that began in June 2014 with the limited deployment of 275 soldiers to protect the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. U.S. escalating involvement has resulted from conservative extremism demanding U.S. engagement and an end to what they viewed as President Obama’s inconsistencies and vacillations. Increasing involvement always will be ineffective in a battle with so many different participants all having different goals. Our participation in what can only be described as entanglement rather than engagement should instead be attributed to the politics of inadvertence.

That’s what I think, what about you?

[1] Hillary Diane Rodham Clinton is an American politician who served as U.S. First Lady under her husband President William (Bill) Clinton, U.S. Senator from New York, 67th U.S. Secretary of State, and the Democratic Party’s nominee for U.S. President in the 2016 election.

[2] Shaheen, Kareem. Adults before their time, Syria’s refugee children toil in the fields of Lebanon, The Guardian, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jul/26/children-syria-bekaa-isis, 25 July 2015.

[3] Kelley, Collin, et al. Climate Change in the Fertile Crescent and Implications of the Recent Syrian Drought, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 2015, http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/ominous-story-of-syria-climate-refugees/, 17 March 2015.

[4] The War Within, The Economist, http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21698652-europe-and-america-made-mistakes-misery-arab-world-caused-mainly-its-own, 14 May 2016.

[5] Clarification: This is a generalization, Iranians are actually not Arabs.

Posted in Afghanistan, al-Qaeda, Aleppo, Arab, Assad, Bagdad, Bahrain, Bashar al-Assad, Bekaa Valley, Bush, Change, Climate, Climate Change, Crops, Daesh, Donald Trump, Drought, Drought, Education, Egypt, Egypt, Europe, Farming, Farms, François Georges-Picot, George W. Bush, Iran, Iraq, ISIS, Islam, Israel, Jihad, Kurds, Lebanon, Levant, Middle-East, Migration, Military, Muslim, Obama, Ottoman Empire, Palestine, Protest, Raqqa, Refugee, Sadam Hussein, Saudi Arabia, Shi’ite, Sir Mark Sykes, Sisi, Suez Canal, Sunni, Sykes, Syria, Taliban, Trump, Wahhabi, Wahhabi Salafism, Weather | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Productivity Growth

It seems to me….

Productivity and the growth of productivity must be the first economic consideration at all times, not the last. That is the source of technological innovation, jobs, and wealth.” ~ William E. Simon[1].

Productivity growth, which is the growth of output of goods and services per hour worked, provides the basis for living standards improvements and has traditionally been fueled by manufacturing revolutions which historically have occurred about every 50-60 years: the steam engine in the middle of the 19th century, the mass-production model in the beginning of the 20th, and the first automation wave in the 1970s. But some aspects of productivity have actually declined over the last 50 years. Growth matters: when the economy doesn’t grow, everyone gets a smaller piece which can lead to increased tensions and conflicts. Today, economic changes challenge the definition of productivity growth as our economy’s reliance upon manufacturing evolves beyond traditional models.

There have been attempts to increase productivity by relocating factories offshore so as to reduce costs by taking advantage of less-costly labor. This did not increase productivity and only temporarily decreased expenses as “cheap” labor does not remain cheap for very long. Basically, regardless of changes, manufacturing has essentially remained the same for the past half-century.

Though rapidly changing, manufacturing will remain a core component of our economy. Past manufacturing revolutions created economic growth through productivity improvement. Growth requires higher economic productivity: more labor, capital, or throughput. Fortunately, we now are possibly at the beginning of the next manufacturing revolution.

So far, technological innovations have not contributed to anticipated productivity increases to the extent anticipated: some productivity factors have actually continued to decline since initial availability of the Internet and robotics. While disappointing, this is somewhat understandable as only now are those innovations slowly starting to be incorporated into manufacturing processes. It takes time to learn how to best utilize process improvements and productivity reorganization. The full potential of any technological advance is frequently not fully exploited until about thirty years following its initial available as any advance typically requires changes in procedures of how things are done and re-engineering of basic processes. A full understanding and appreciation of these differences, in addition to alteration of structures to accommodate newer equipment, seems to require a new generation of managers and engineers able to understand and appreciate those changes and whose expertise is not dependent upon obsolete methodologies. Technological innovation not only replaces previous ways of doing things, but also the livelihoods of those dependent upon those methods.

Advances in sensing, computation, storage, networking, and software require all activities, whether industrial, leisure, medical, etc. to become digitized and computable greatly empowering those able to understand and conceive new applications, obtain funding, implement, and easily scale them at a speed and cost accessible to most potential entrepreneurs. Major technologies are increasingly being incorporated into the manufacturing space boosting industrial productivity by more than a third and creating economic growth. As digital technologies transform the economy, corporate management must develop the digital strategies, shift organizational structures, and remove those barriers preventing them from maximizing the potential impact of new digital technologies.

Only 8 percent of the tasks, primarily the less-complex more-repetitive ones, in today’s factories are currently automated but that is predicted to increase to 25 percent within 10 years. By 2025, advanced robots complementing workers will, together, be about 20 percent more productive: manufacturing productivity will increase by 20 percent; economic growth will correspondingly increase by 20 percent. Similarly, additive manufacturing (3D printing) should result in 40 percent greater productivity within specific industries such as plastic and metal manufacturing.

The Internet of Things (IoT) represents the next big wave of data-driven technological innovation and will connect physical devices embedded with tiny computing devices to the Internet to seamlessly improve measurements, communications, flexibility, and customization of processes and activities. Market trend analysis forecasts robust growth in the total number of networked devices in use over the next decades. It will enable extensions and enhancements to current fundamental services in education, health, and other sectors, as well as providing a new ecosystem for application development. By enabling devices to communicate with each other independent of human interaction, the IoT will permit new revenue streams, facilitate new business models, drive efficiencies, and improve the way existing services available across numerous different sectors are delivered.

Not only is manufacturing become more productive, it also is becoming more flexible enabling scale customization processing where products can be produced with a specified functionality and design for the same cost and lead time as mass-produced products – one single item can be produced at a cost and lead time similar to a batch of many.

Factor intensity of production is a measure of the relatively greater quantities of an input such as land, labor, capital, workers… used in production. Scale manufacturing will result in production facilities being located in closer proximity to intended markets as the factor intensity of transportation costs replace labor costs as the primary determinant for production facility siting.

Many once believed automation would enable most items to be custom produced rather than mass-produced but there has been little progress in that direction (though availability of additive manufacturing might result in a more limited but somewhat similar capability). Smaller and more agile manufacturing capabilities will be located nearer to the consumer as scale becomes less important than flexibility. This new globalization will be better for the environment creating greater employment, productivity, and growth.

Many changes will be necessary as the U.S. becomes a postindustrial economy. Productivity enhancements will increase the already insufficient availability of highly educated job applicants. Increased globalization will further negatively affect heavy industry and manufacturing while benefiting information, service, education, and technology industries. New industrial segments will rapidly expand; e.g., renewable energy will replace carbon fuels.

This is not a zero-sum process; the economy should experience sustainable growth resulting in greater wealth distribution for all providing a better quality of life for future generations. Unfortunately, the reality is that income inequality has been increasing for over the last 30 years driven by rising inequality of both labor (wages and compensation) and capital income along with an increasing share of income going into capital income rather than labor income. Wages and compensation for the typical worker and income growth for the typical family have lagged behind productivity growth. For the overall benefits of productivity improvements to extend throughout the economy, a more equitable distribution of gains will be necessary.

There is a caveat: it will not happen automatically. Similar to many other challenges our nation is facing, it will entail increased educational availability, massive workforce retraining, infrastructure modernization, and government financial support – something the current administration in all probability will be unwilling to consider.

That’s what I think, what about you?

[1] William Edward Simon was an American businessman, 63rd U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, and a philanthropist.

Posted in 3D Printing, Additive Manufacturing, AI, AI, Artificial, Artificial Intelligence, Artificial Intelligence, Automation, Automation, Compensation, Economy, Education, Energy, Globalization, Income, Income, Industrial Revolution, Inequality, Inequality, Inequality, Intelligence, Internet, Internet of Things, Internet of Things, Internet of Things, IoT, IoT, IoT, Manufacturing, Manufacturing, Off-Shoring, Off-Shoring, Postindustrial, Productivity, Productivity, Robotics, Robotics, Steam Engine, Technology, Wages, Wages, Wages | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Survival Limitations

It seems to me…

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper
.” ~ T. S. Eliot (The Hollow Men).

Everyone prefers an optimist but Pollyannaish predictions fail to convey the possibility of negative occurrences whereas pessimistic Cassandra-type warnings might better convey the likely dire consequences of future events. I’ve recently written several postings concerning the potential catastrophic outcome associated with such activities as artificial intelligence – this is more general and developed out of my thoughts concerning the probability of intelligence surviving sufficiently long to develop detectable extraterrestrial communications.

There have been numerous attempts to estimate the number of life-supporting communicating planetary systems in the universe. The Drake Equation,

\displaystyle N^{*}=\int_{0}^{T_g} R^*(t) \,dt

where the number of stars in the galaxy, N* is related to the star formation rate R*, originally proposed by Dr. Frank Drake at the University of California–Santa Cruz in 1961, is probably the estimate with which people are most familiar. Many critics consider the model to be overly simplistic and have proposed numerous changes including additional potentially relevant parameters[1]. E.g., the equation probably should include effects resulting from alien civilizations colonizing multiple star systems. It also should consider how many times an intelligent civilization possibly evolved on planets where it originally developed at least once as several prior intelligent species could emerge during the same planet’s lifespan.

Regardless of how the approximation is derived, it is estimated there should be at least one million other planets with a sufficiently intelligent species capable of communications just in our galaxy – so why have they not been detected (at least not so far)? Since all the factors in the equation are only estimates, it is very tempting to criticize their values. Everyone, including Stephen Hawking has done so.

Intelligence, Hawking believes, contrary to our human-centric existence, may not have any long-term survival value. Hawking believes there are other forms of intelligent life out there that have been overlooked and warns if/when we pick up signals from an alien civilization “we should be wary of answering back until we have evolved” a bit further. Meeting a more advanced civilization, at our present stage, “…might be a bit like the original inhabitants of America meeting Columbus. I don’t think they were better off for it.” Hawking might at least be partly correct in that intelligence actually could diminish the probability of species survival.

My primary criticism of the Drake Equation is that it is not complete – it only considers those parameters estimating communicative life existence. Earth has experienced several mass-extinctions. An additional set of parameters is required providing an estimate on the probability of intelligence evolution process disruption. We should be able to place limits establishing probabilities of mass-catastrophic events sufficient to reset the intelligence development process.

One problem (there admittedly are quite a few) is any analysis is primarily based on our own planet – we haven’t any meaningful observations of conditions elsewhere so our options are somewhat limited. While the Drake equation was intended as an analysis of possible extraterrestrial communications, we also are assessing the probability of our own species’ potential survival. I’m sure others will be more than happy to comment on what these parameters and their values should be.

Several parameters in the basic Drake Equation; e.g., fl – the fraction of planets that actually develop life and fi – the fraction of life-bearing planets on which intelligent life has developed; are still relevant but require additional consideration. There is a lengthy list of additional possible so-called catastrophic events, some of which will be briefly considered here, some more feasible than others, so this will not constitute a complete list.

A Catastrophic Event is a possible natural occurring or human-caused termination event affecting either all life or resulting in a substantial disruption to civilization. Other factors – some of which, while possible, remain unsubstantiated and difficult to assign any meaningful probability of occurrence. Many of these border on science fiction and while it is not possible to totally dismiss them, their probability of occurrence is normally considered to be extremely low. Representative examples include extraterrestrial contact, non-electromagnetic communications, etc.

The effect of extraterrestrial contact could be either a positive or negative. Stephen Hawking and others have observed that any contact with a more advanced culture or civilization normally negatively impacts the less developed culture. If that more advance culture is benign however, there is much that could be learned.

Another possibility is that though we do not currently know of any form of communications not dependent upon electromagnetic radiation, being the only long-distance communications method of which we are yet aware, the probable existence of other more efficient means of communications cannot be totally dismissed.

There are numerous possibilities, in addition to the two just mentioned, potentially resulting in a catastrophic event both positively or negatively affecting the extent of natural events; e.g., human dispersion to off-planet colonies substantially reduces catastrophic possibilities from entirely natural events such as an asteroid collision or human-caused nuclear-winter. It is not possible to fully address each of these potential events in this brief summary; consequently some are essentially only mentioned.

There are numerous potential causes of ecological collapse, the situation where an ecosystem suffers a drastic, possibly permanent, reduction in carrying capacity for all organisms often resulting in mass extinction. Mass extinctions can happen for a number of reasons but the two primary categories being natural events and those resulting from human activity.

Natural catastrophic events include the possibility of termination resulting from solar flares, supernovae, black hole explosions or mergers, gamma-ray bursts, galactic center outbursts, or other similar occurrences, many of which are difficult to accurately estimate.

Calculations indicate that the Andromeda Galaxy is on a collision course with the Milky Way. Andromeda is approaching at an average speed of about 140 kilometers (87 miles) per second and impact is predicted to occur in about 3 billion years. Our Sun, as a result of normal stellar evolution, will exhaust its hydrogen core and become a red giant in about 5 billion years. While either of these events obviously qualify as a potential catastrophic event, they are sufficiently far in the future to not be of immediate concern (regardless, there is nothing we currently could do to prevent them).

Major asteroid impacts have caused large-scale extinction on Earth in the past. Most famously, the Chicxulub impact 66 million years ago is widely believed to have caused the mass extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs. It is estimated that only about one percent of extraterrestrial objects, including asteroids, have to date been found – 158 have been identified larger than 1 kilometer capable of totally destroying civilization. Over 2000 between 30 and 1000 meters sufficiently large to destroy a city or seriously disrupt civilization also have been identified.

Throughout history there have been a number of significant pandemics – outbreaks of diseases which cross international boundaries and infect substantial numbers of people. The risk from a global pandemic is not that a single contagion would kill everyone; it’s that a pandemic could kill a sufficient number of people that the rudiments of civilization; e.g., agriculture, the economy…; could not be maintained resulting in death of the survivors. Somewhat similarly, natural selection could create antibiotic-resistant super-bacteria capable of devastating the world population and causing a global collapse of civilization.

The Permian-Triassic extinction event, which rendered something like 90 percent of the Earth’s species extinct, is believed to have resulted from volcanic eruptions able to cause significant global cooling and disrupt agricultural production. There are seven known supervolcanoes (or megacaldera) in the world located in Yellowstone, Long Valley, and Valles Calderas in the U.S.; Lake Toba, North Sumatra, Indonesia; Taupo Volcano, North Island, New Zealand; Aira Caldera, Kagoshima Prefecture, Kyūshū, Japan; and the Siberian Traps, Russia. Any of these theoretically could have the destructive capability to send the entire planet into a volcanic winter. As with pandemics, the risk isn’t so much that the event itself will kill everyone as that it would make continued survival untenable for those who lived through it.

A hypercane is a hypothetical class of extreme hurricane that could form if ocean temperatures reached around 50°C (122°F), which is 15°C (27°F) warmer than the warmest ocean temperature ever recorded. Such an increase could be caused by a large asteroid or comet impact, a large supervolcanic eruption, or extensive global warming. While capable of causing unimaginable destruction, the actual cause of the oceanic temperature increase would most likely be more catastrophic than the hypercane.

Colony collapse disorder is an ailment of unknown cause affecting honeybees (Apis mellifera) characterized by sudden colony death due to the disappearance of all adult worker bees in a hive while only immature bees, the queen bee, and the honey remain. Honeybees perform some level of pollination in nearly 75 percent of all plant species directly used for human food worldwide; an estimated seven out of the 60 major agricultural crops just in North American would be lost. While colony collapse disorder could cause significant economic losses, it is doubtful the result would be catastrophic as no staple foods would be eradicated and, given time, other pollinators would eventually replace the honeybee.

Dysgenics, also known as cacogenics, is the accumulation and perpetuation of defective or disadvantageous genes and traits in offspring of a particular population or species, lack of natural selection, or the tendency of more intelligent couples to have fewer children which could sufficiently lower average health and intelligence leading to an eventual collapse of civilization resulting in a catastrophic decline in the quality of human life or its total cessation. Current demographic trends if sufficiently extended, could create a marked decrease in the birth rate threatening civilization. Similarly, infertility among humans has been in decline and if this trend continues, eventually no fertile humans will be left to continue the species.

It is theorized that a tiny loss of telomere length from one generation to the next, mirroring the aging process in individuals, could over thousands of generations erode the telomere down to its critical level. Once at the critical level, outbreaks of age-related diseases would occur earlier in life finally resulting in a population crash.

While the end result is identical to possible catastrophic termination from natural events, our species has, or will shortly, achieve the ability to create various types of human-caused extinction events. The further technology and science advance, the more probable these types of events become.

Warfare and mass destruction have reached a point where available weapons threaten sustained life. Unconstrained nuclear war could result in massive numbers of deaths and what has been termed nuclear winter. If a sufficient number of nuclear devices were detonated concurrently, world temperatures could fall dramatically and quickly due to high concentrations of atmospheric dust and smoke disrupting food production and possibly rendering human life impossible.

The possibility of exponential advances in artificial intelligence (AI) could either be the greatest development ever made or totally catastrophic. Once computational systems sufficiently advance enabling them to improve themselves without human assistance, it could result in a spiral of ever-increasing superintelligence. If AI remains friendly to humans, this would be a very beneficial with the prospect of advancing research in a variety of domains. The risk is that AI would have little use for humans and either out of malevolence or perceived necessity eliminate us.

Nanotechnology is manipulation of matter on an atomic, molecular, and supramolecular scale with the goal of precisely manipulating atoms and molecules for fabrication of macroscale products. It could democratize industrial production substantially increasing the ability to develop highly destructive weapons. There also is a possibility that self-replicating nanotech would create a “gray goo” scenario in which it grows out of control and encroaches upon resources on which humans depend causing mass disruption and potential civilizational collapse.

Synthetic biology is an emerging scientific field that focuses on the creation of biological systems including artificial life that could be used to engineer a pathogen, a supervirus or superbacteria, more infectious and capable of mass destruction than one that evolved naturally. Most likely, such an organism would be created as a biological weapon either for either a military or a non-state actor. The risk is that such a weapon would either be used in warfare, a terrorist attack, or accidentally escape from a lab. Either scenario could threaten humanity if the bioweapon spreads beyond the initial target and becomes a global problem. As with natural pandemics, actual extinction would only occur if survivors were unable to adapt to a massive population decline.

Experimental accidents such as nuclear and high energy physics research could conceivably create unusual conditions with catastrophic consequences. Scientists were concerned that the first nuclear weapons test might ignite the atmosphere. There is a remote possibility that Brookhaven’s Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider or the Large Hadron Collider at CERN might initiate a chain-reaction global disaster involving black holes or false vacuum states. Though these concerns have been refuted, there remains some general concern.

The consequences of technological unemployment from robotics and computerization advances could result in increasing numbers of workers being replaced by work place automation. Sufficiently high unemployment would result in extreme levels of social discontent and escalating economic failure.

Catastrophe theory predicts a software-complexity tipping point when the integrated world becomes vulnerable to fatal and unrecoverable system errors. Modern technological dependency is becoming a fragile house of cards where mutually dependent system failures possibly could promulgate throughout the system escalating into a total collapse.

There are numerous catastrophic repercussions resulting from uncontrolled overpopulation increases. Some scenarios indicate simultaneous ecological (food and water production) and economic collapses possibly leading to global civil war where remaining habitable areas could be destroyed due to human competition. If continued at current levels, population increases will at some point necessarily result in social and economic disruption.

An ecological disaster, such as world crop failure and collapse of ecosystem services, could be induced by the present trends of overpopulation, economic development, and non-sustainable agriculture. Most of these scenarios involve one or more of the following: scarcity of water that could lead to approximately one half of the Earth’s population being without safe drinking water, overfishing, massive deforestation, desertification, or massive water pollution episodes.

It would be extremely difficult to actually mention all of the negative effects associated with climate and ecology change. Sea levels are rising due to the melting of glaciers and polar ice flooding low lying areas. More extreme droughts, tropical cyclones, frequent forest fires, and intense rainfall are projected. Widespread climate change ecosystem and extinction threats are causing extensive harm to polar life, coral reefs, and other unique and vulnerable ecosystems. Failure to limit global temperature increases to less than 2 degrees Celsius would also result in widespread social and economic disruption. It is not known at what point continued global warming could result in sufficient disruption to affect civilization or if humanity could survive warming of 4 – 6ºC (7.2 – 10.8ºF).

Global warming could, via a shutdown or slowdown of thermohaline circulation, trigger localized cooling in the North Atlantic and lead to cooling in that region. This would affect specific areas like Ireland, the Nordic countries, and Britain normally warmed by the North Atlantic drift resulting in the social and economic collapse of those regions.

If fossil fuels attain a level of scarcity prior to availability of economically viable replacements, it could lead to economic strain, followed by the collapse of modern agriculture, then to mass starvation. Nonrenewable substances, such as hydrocarbons, are a primary energy source for current civilizations but also used to produce plastics, lubricants, paints, textiles, medications, and numerous other products necessary to civilization.

Famine is a major problem in many parts of the world but human-related activity can greatly intensify it. High-quality agricultural areas being converted to urban usage due to population increases forces food production onto more marginal or less fertile land. Food riots have recently taken place in many countries across the world resulting from conversion of staple farm products from food production to use in biofuels causing world oil prices to spike to more than $140 per barrel (the current price is only about $55 per barrel), increased prices for grain used to feed poultry and dairy cows and other cattle, and leading to higher prices for wheat (up 58 percent), soybean (up 32 percent), and maize (up 11 percent) in a single year. An epidemic of stem rust on wheat caused by race TTKSK (Ug99) is currently spreading across Africa and into Asia is of major concern. While the cause might vary, millions of people face starvation.

Global economic and political system collapse could result from a severe, prolonged depression with high bankruptcy rates and high unemployment, a breakdown in normal commerce caused by hyperinflation, or even an economically-caused sharp increase in the death rate and perhaps even a decline in population. Hyperinflation occurs when a country experiences very high and usually accelerating rates of inflation and rapidly eroding currency values. If sufficiently prolonged and widespread, hyperinflation could result in economic collapse.

Extreme economic inequality where wealth is primarily concentrated among a small percentage of the populous has historically resulted in economic collapse. If sufficiently extreme, severe economic and social disruption would be probable. (Note: the Gini coefficient, a measure of economic inequality, is about 0.65 worldwide and about 0.81 in the U.S. – the highest in the world and at a level normally associated with social unrest.)

Overconsumption is a situation where resource use outpaces the sustainable capacity of an ecosystem leading to increased conflict over dwindling resources. This could result from overpopulation or competition among developing economies where demand exceeds carrying capacity. Excessive unsustainable consumption eventually exceeds the long term carrying capacity of its environment (ecological overshoot) and subsequent resource depletion, environmental degradation, and possible ecosystem collapse.

Worldwide market failure resulting in economic collapse could be triggered by any number of perhaps relatively minor causes similar to the 1929 depression or 2009 recession. Banks would be forced to close. Food, gas, and other necessities would be unavailable. If local governments and utilities were affected, water and electricity would fail. The economy would revert to a bartering economy as the primary means to obtain food and other services.

Governance policies are subject to failure and occasionally exacerbate whatever problems they were intended to fix. Any delay or failure in responding to a threat capable of causing human extinction would thus have hugely negative consequences.

If a world government developed, misguided policies could cap progress leading to stagnation and civilization reversal. While extremism of any form could be detrimental, religious or puritanical influences could impel a back to basics rejection of societal advancement and an end of advanced civilization.

There are almost certainly other dangers out there with grave potential impacts that cannot be imagined. Unfortunately, the most important thing for which we can prepare is the unforeseen and unknowable. In nature, that which we discount as either unlikely or impossible is probably likely to happen.

It most likely will be at least 100 years until we are able to establish totally self-sufficient colonies on other planets even within our solar system. That next hundred years will also see unparalleled advancement in science with much of that development increasingly able to result in some catastrophic event. As we primarily react only to an actually perceived threat rather than one which is only possible, it is this period when survival as a species is most threatened.

Pandora’s box has been opened and we haven’t any way of knowing all that was let out. Either way, the lid can never again be shut.

That’s what I think, what about you?

[1] Drake Equation, Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drake_equation.

Posted in Agriculture, AI, AI, Aira Caldera, Andromeda, Apis Mellifera, Artificial, Artificial Intelligence, Artificial Intelligence, Cacogenics, Catastrophic, Chicxulub, Civilization, Climate, Climate Change, Communications, Crisis, Crops, Disaster, Disease, Drake Equation, Dysgenics, Economy, Employment, employment, Environment, Environment, Extinction, Extinction, Extinctions, Extraterrestrial, Farm Land, Farming, Farms, Finance, Frank Drake, Gini Coefficient, Gini Coefficient, Global Warming, Global Warming, Honeybees, Hypercane, Inequality, Inequality, Inequality, Jobs, Kagoshima Prefecture, Kyūshū, Lake Toba, Long Valley, Megacaldera, Nanotechnology, North Island, North Sumatra, Pandemic, Permian-Triassic, Plague, Siberian Traps, Society, Space, Stephen Hawking, Supervolcanoes, Taupo Volcano, Telomere, Termination Event, Threats, Unemployment, University of California – Santa Cruz, Valles Calderas, Volcanoes, War, Weather, Weather, Yellowstone | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2017 – It Was A Year

It seems to me….

And now we welcome the new year. Full of things that have never been.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke[1].

Another year – 2017 – has now passed. When young, New Year’s was an excuse to party but with the passing of many years, it is met more with regret as the accelerating passage of time and fleeting years only serve as a reminder of how quickly the sands of time are passing through that hourglass. This observation is not met with melancholy but with a degree of fatalism and increasing awareness of what lies ahead.

Most years are characterized by very mixed sentiments but following eight years of political light, optimism, and hope; inauguration of a new U.S. president apparently determined to lead us down an erroneous path casts a deep shadow of despondency concerning our nation’s future.

There isn’t any one year essentially more important than any other year. Bad “stuff”, both personal and general, occurs every year but much good also happens. Some events potentially affect the course of world history more than others and those years might eventually be considered more important but there isn’t any way to adequately determine the significance of those years other than from the prolonged perspective of past history.

Perception will always depend upon when and of whom the question is asked. Recent years always seem disproportionately important simply because they are current. Today, thanks to the Internet, we generally know considerably more about what is going on in the world than the average person in the past. It also is true that occurrences are not totally random; related clusters of events and incidents exist perhaps seeming unrelated but associated and dependent on others in possibly only slightly discernable ways.

2017 can be characterized as a year of notable disasters. Major hurricanes struck Texas, Florida, and the Caribbean islands. Some of the most devastating fires in both Northern and Southern California history. Donald Trump became President of the U.S. (and Congress has not removed him – at least not yet).

There were far too many noteworthy events, mostly negative, to mention but any list should include the following: Terrorist attacks in Istanbul, Turkey, killed 139; Las Vegas, Nevada, killed 58 people and injured 546; Manchester, England, killed 22 and injured over 100; Tehran, Iran, killed 17 and injured 43; Mogadishu, Somalia, killed 512 and injured 316; Sinai, Egypt, killed 305; all in addition to many other attacks that occurred elsewhere throughout the world. Earthquakes struck Central Mexico killing 369 people and in the Iraq/Iran border area killing 530. North Korean ballistic missile launches and nuclear weapons tests. Emmanuel Macron’s election as president of France. The genocide of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. Defeat of ISIS in Syrian and Iraq. The filing of sexual assault allegations against prominent figures in the U.S. which spread to other countries. An opioid epidemic, the rapid increase in the use of prescription and non-prescription opioid drugs in the U.S. and Canada, became the deadliest drug crisis in U.S. history. In general, it was a year best relegated to the past.

There was an unfortunate element of prophetic truth in a satirical article in The Onion on 18 January 2001 where President-elect Bush declared in a mock-speech that “Our long national nightmare of peace and prosperity is over”. While Bush might have been only partly successful in his attempts to realize those goals, the Trump administration unfortunately appears to be making every effort to accomplish those very sentiments.

Under Trump, the U.S. has abdicated its role as world leader resulting in a diminution of its worldwide approbation. He withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, withdrew from the Paris climate change agreement, withdrew from UNESCO, reversed progress made with Iran, and mocked U.S. allies around the world. He encouraged a hostile foreign power, Russia, to interfere in our Presidential election on his behalf.

Since Trump’s inauguration, there has been an increase of intolerance, hate crimes, violence, mass shootings, and weapon purchases. His administrative officials deny climate change and are attempting to reverse environment progress. Economic inequality has increased. Rather than attempting to bridge the political chasms dividing us as promised, they have only further deepened. He is attempting to terminate immigration and expel all non-citizens. There have been cutbacks in healthcare, education, infrastructure, research, and many other areas. His bellicosity has brought us to the threshold of war with North Korea.

Technology has always been one of my favorite topics. Two areas seemingly receiving the most attention this past year were artificial intelligence (AI) and the Amazon Alexa. The two seemed to be mentioned everywhere. Ostensibly everyone wanted to incorporate AI into every available product.

Voice-recognition technology apparently has finally sufficiently matured to be accepted by consumers. The Amazon Alexa voice assistant seemingly dominated sales beating out Apple Siri, Microsoft Cortana, and Google Home. Alexa showed up in car infotainment systems, new smartphones, robots, lamps, and even laundry machines.

Electric and autonomous vehicles made major advances in both capability and acceptance. While still several years prior to when most vehicles sold will be electric powered rather than by fossil fuels or when fully autonomous vehicles will be generally available, most major manufacturers indicated their intent to terminate production of gas engine powered vehicles within the next few years.

Photovoltaic (solar) power generation continued to replace non-renewable sources of energy. The U.S. now generates eight times as much energy from renewable sources as it did ten years ago and photovoltaic production is increasing exponentially even with lack of government support and opposition by traditional energy providers.

In other science news, the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn, which extended over almost 20 years, sent back vast amounts of technical data and pictures of both Saturn and several of its major moons and the Huygens probe made the first landing on a moon in the outer solar system, all prior to a final mission-ending plunge into the Saturn atmosphere.

2017 was filled by all the collaging basics of life, and while admittedly a better year for some than others, it now takes its place in history. It was a busy year with much more that should be said but will not. Perhaps the salient observation is that 2017 was an interesting year. The coming year will mostly be met with the traditional optimism that it will be filled with all that makes life interesting. May you enjoy good luck, good health, good fortune, and good times throughout the entire New Year.

That’s what I think, what about you?

[1] René Karl Wilhelm Johann Josef Maria Rilke, better known as Rainer Maria Rilke, was a Bohemian-Austrian poet and novelist widely recognized as one of the most lyrically intense German-language poets writing in both verse and highly lyrical prose.

Posted in AI, AI, Alexa, Amazon, Apple, Apple, Artificial Intelligence, Artificial Intelligence, Autonomous, autonomous vehicles, Bush, Canada, Cassini-Huygens, Change, Clean, Climate, Climate Change, Cortana, Cortana, Crime, Donald Trump, Driverless, Education, Egypt, Energy, England, Environment, Fossil Fuel, France, France, Google, Healthcare, Home, Huygens, Immigration, Inequality, Infrastructure, Iran, ISIS, Istanbul, Las Vegas, Manchester, Mexico, Mexico, Microsoft, Microsoft, Mogadishu, Myanmar, Nevada, North Korea, Opioids, Photovoltaic, Power, Renewable, Rohingya, Russia, Saturn, Sinai, Siri, Siri, Solar, Solar, Somalia, Speech Recognition, Syria, Technology, Terrorism, The Onion, TPP, Trans-Pacific Partnership, Trump, Turkey, UNESCO, Vehicle, War | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments