Sunday, August 26, 2018

The Race Is On

The challenge of the 20th century was that humanity could go extinct if a few well-positioned people happened to be reckless, extreme, paranoid, or (in the right cases) deceived.

We managed to meet that challenge (so far).

The challenge of the 21st century is that humanity could go extinct if all of us just keep on living our lives in our normal pattern.

That's a far more difficult challenge to tackle.

We are, as you don't need me to tell you, rapidly racing towards ecological catastrophe. Global warming is approaching runaway levels, threatening a chain-reaction of climatological forces which may well be irreversible and would make human life on Earth impossible. Estimates differ, but the breakout point is almost certainly within this century.

But ironically, along a similar timeframe, we're also racing towards the technological developments that could save us. These are (a) limitless renewable energy and (b) genuine artificial intelligence. If those two currencies -- energy and intelligence -- start to get on a runaway train, then all of the sudden we're back in business. Infinite energy + infinite computing power = ability to solve essentially any problem (certainly in particular the problem of freezing, or potentially even reversing, greenhouse gas emissions). And the breakout points for each of these are, I'd wager, also within this century. So short-term strategies with respect to climate change might simply be delaying actions (see: how nukes might save the world). What we need to do is buy the computers enough time to save us all.

But basically a race. Can we get to free energy and free computation before we get past a climatological point of no return? What's amazing to me is that I genuinely, truly believe it's a toss-up -- and that we'll probably find out the answer (one way or another) in my lifetime.

Of course, the advent of true AI might bring about a whole new host of existential/extinction-level problems (one of the most interesting aspects of the lore of Horizon: Zero Dawn is that they make it quite clear humanity managed to avoid the ecological apocalypse ... only to stumble into a self-replicating killer robot apocalypse). But one disaster at a time.

The Bachelor's Roundup

Today is a big week.

It is my last week as an unmarried man. This coming Sunday, September 2nd, 2018, I will be married. 9/2/18 -- it's very mathematical, and the mathematical around the number "18" too, which is nicely auspicious.

Jill has been out of town since Wednesday -- she says on a work trip, though I think she's just having a second bachelorette party. She gets back late tonight, and then we both fly to Minnesota together on Thursday.

So ... this might be a light posting week. Or not! I'm unpredictable.

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The Washington Post has a long article on the Lumbee Indians of North Carolina and the unique neither-fish-nor-fowl status they have under federal Indian law. I had a case that tangentially connected to the Lumbee when I was at Covington, so I actually was familiar with their situation -- and this article does a good job providing additional depth.

There is little doubt in my mind that, if Trump goes down, his hardcore followers will blame the Jews.

A fascinating -- if chilling -- essay by Cass Sunstein on how ordinary Germans experienced the rise of Nazism. The takeaway is that, for them, things still always felt "ordinary". They went camping, they hung out with friends, they made jokes. We have a very wrong idea of the phenomenology of authoritarianism -- at least for those persons not directly targeted for suppression.

David Hirsh goes into detail to explain what should be obvious: why Jeremy Corbyn dismissing "Zionists" as people who have "lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives," and yet "don’t understand English irony" is antisemitic. It leverages specifically antisemitic tropes, and it does so in a way that's only sensible if one is leveraging those tropes (the idea of "Zionists" retaining status as perpetual aliens who remain unassimilable outsiders no matter how long they live in their "host" countries is incoherent without supervening on "Zionist as Jew").

Who could have guessed that, if the fringe group Jewish Voice for Labour put on a forum on antisemitism, it would become a forum for antisemitism? Everyone, that's who!

Regarding the French Open's ban on Serena Williams wearing a "catsuit", it's simultaneously amazing and not at all amazing that misogynoir so easily trumps the truckloads of money and attention Williams -- one of the biggest stars in global sports -- brings to women's tennis.