Technology and Society

Accelerating Forward

Are you thinking of the day you can go online, download a set of prints for your cup, print it out, drink from it with juice you have purchased with a virtual currency generated by machines?

That day is today.

To have lived one hundred years in the last century would have been generous. The next one hundred, including the time we live in now, will be positively thrilling.

As much as airplanes were thrilling years ago, the concept of personalized genetic sequencing, and medicine, interstellar travel, and technological singularity—the evolution of smarter-than-human artificial intelligence—have been fascinating: and now, very, very realizable, with several enterprises on the cutting edge of delivery— SpaceX, 23andMe, and IBM with Watson.

As the Wikipedia entry ominously predicts of technological singularity: it is a theoretical moment in time that will “radically change human civilization, and perhaps even human nature itself.” We are going to be living through several of those moments as technology in different fields progresses. What will this mean?

Countdown the Singularity with code(love)

Countdown the Singularity with code(love)—originally from http://www.singularity.com/

It will mean a new shift in the slow biological evolution of mankind towards an accelerated technological and moral evolution, based on knowledge. Moore’s law of doubling processing power every two years has become the norm across a variety of scientific fields.

There are reasonably few things that are near-certain in this, here are just a few:

Those who grasp how technology is advancing in different fields will not be surprised, and will benefit the most from it.

A premium will be placed on those who understand science, engineering, and technology. Learning those things and working with them is boss.

Shit is going to get real. There are going to be huge changes.

Keep calm and keep coding with code(love)

Keep calm and keep coding with code(love)

Humanity has held on by bridging the gap between cheap fossil fuels, and finite resources, and massive problems. Those are going to have to be tackled head-on soon.

The rest is very uncertain, none more than the element of what definitive path we choose to embark on together, and the classic question: will we do good, or will we do evil with our new capabilities?

The two stories that have struck me the deepest on this are when Oppenheimer took the scientific wizardly of splitting an atom, and was forced to construct a weapon that evaporated and damaged hundreds of thousands of people. Intelligence and technology do not grant immunity to evil.

The other story is about Ray Kurzweil, a fervent advocate of technological singularity, and his burning motivation for advancing technology: the reincarnation of his dead father in a virtual avatar, for one infinitely long conversation, transcending the time they had lost together parted by death.  Technology is not something that cannot humanize, and be used to explore the complex emotions and motives that power human nature.

Ultimately, what we do with the possibilities afforded to us will determine whether the upcoming century will be one of the brightest or darkest in human history. The only certainty is that those possibilities are coming, faster than ever.

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You’re interested in printing out your design for a cup. Click here.

You’re interested in buying your juice with bitcoin. Click here.

You’re interested in learning to keep calm,  and coding. Click here.

You’re interested in a deeper reflection on Ray Kurzweil. Click here.

Learning Lists

Six Valuable Resources for Learning and Practicing Languages

Up in frosty Montreal, there’s often a need to learn different languages as it is quite a diverse city, and also a need to stay inside, as it is quite a cold city. Teasing out ways to learn languages while not freezing, using technology and the power of the internet, has been a very useful exercise for me. Here are some of the valuable resources I’ve found along the way. 

1–      Babbel

www.babbel.com

I’ve always found Babbel’s mobile application to be ideally balanced, as the levels are not as long as other language applications, and the method of answering by point, and click, is simpler which makes it an ideal travel companion, and a way to practice a language without dedicating too much active effort to it. Do a download of the mobile application for your phone or your tablet, and try it out. Very useful for those constantly on the run.

2–      FluentU

www.fluentu.com

Have you ever stopped to think that if only Game of Thrones were produced in Mandarin, you’d be a lot further along in learning Mandarin? They say necessity is the mother of all invention, and FluentU hits that niche nicely. By taking real-life videos that are entertaining in other languages, overlaying subtitles and the meanings of the language behind it, and then quizzing you on what you just watched, FluentU is a new technology startup that manages to build quite a compelling and immersive experience for you to have fun watching your favorite K-Pop videos while learning a language.

3–      HackingChinese

www.hackingchinese.com

The title itself is enough to fall in love with. This blog has a ton of resources on how to attack learning Mandarin, and consequently, a bunch of other languages. Instead of focusing on rote memorization of one language, it focuses on the process of learning language, a crucial distinction that makes it incredibly useful. It’s well-written, substantive, and a very valuable resource.

4–      Linguee

www.linguee.com

Ever felt you were a little too expressive for Google Translate? Linguee is your solution. Its’ sheer genius is that it will take your query, then crawl through the work of professional translators on legitimate sources such as government websites that must translate across several languages for their people, to return a result for you. You can put in jargon-laden terms or even sentences, and see how the best translators would have tackled those tricky translations. It’s the only site I’ve ever gone to where I could make sense out of my random economics rants about externalities in another language—for that I will forever love Linguee, and in time, you will too.

5–      Italki

www.italki.com

I don’t think there’s any language learning experience more immersive than talking, and connecting with someone in their native tongue. Having coffee with someone who speaks the language you want to learn is pure gold in terms of learning languages. Italki finds people around the world for you to do this with online, and makes it awesomely easier for you to connect with people around the world who are looking to learn languages just like you.

6–      Duolingo

www.duolingo.com

When you clicked on the link, did you think Duolingo would be front and center? Yes, Duolingo is great, but it’s very well-known compared to some of the other resources above, and it’s good to shine the spotlight on other resources. However, I’d be remiss not to point out the gamified service where I am refining my French and learning Spanish. Its’ desktop web platform is very hard to beat in terms of a complete interactive experience learning languages.

There you go, you have no excuses now. Go forth, and start learning how to connect with people around the world. You’re only a couple of button clicks away from starting, as I was months ago. Bon voyage!

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Interested in similar resources for learning how to code?

http://www.code-love.com/2014/01/26/five-brilliant-resources-for-learning-how-to-code-design-and-think/

Life Hacking

How to stop giving a fuck what people think.

By @sseankim

We‘re all guilty.Everyday from the moment we wake up, we live our lives caring what other people think of us.We accept the status quo for what it is because everyone around us does.
We tip toe our way through life by doing things in order to please others, not because it’s what we believe in. Eventually our actions, appearances, and lives become moulded by how we think other people perceive us.How are these pants going to make me look? What will my colleagues think if I spoke out? Are those people talking shit behind my back? If I take this job, what will my friends and family think of me?Just writing that paragraph alone gave me a headache…
It’s exhausting. It’s dreadful. It has to stop.Living a life that follows the ideal notions of what other people think is a terrible way to live. It makes you become the spineless spectator who waits for other people to take action first. It makes you become a follower.
Worst of all, it makes you become someone who doesn’t take a stand for anything.Today is the last day we live a life dictated by others. Today, we’re going to get to the bottom of the truth. Today is the day we stop giving a F@$%.

No one really cares

Believe it or not, we’re not that special.

We go through our days thinking about how other people might be judging us. But the truth is — those people are thinking the exact same thing.

No one in today’s “smartphone crazed” society has time in their schedule to think more than a brief second about us. The fact of the matter is, when we do have time get our thoughts straight, we’re too busy thinking about ourselves and our own shortcomings — not others.

study done by the National Science Foundation claims that people have on average 50, 000 plus thoughts a day. This means that even if someone thought about us ten times in one day, it’s only 0.02% of their overall daily thoughts.

“You’ll worry less about what people think about you when you realize how seldom they do.” — David Foster Wallace

It is a sad but simple truth that the average person filters their world through their ego, meaning that they think of most things relating to “me” or “my.” This means that unless you have done something that directly affects another person or their life, they are not going to spend much time thinking about you at all.

I’ve always enjoyed watching performers trying to hustle some change at the New York City train stations. These guys simply don’t give a F@$%.
But the more interesting observation I made is how the spectators react. Rather than watching the actual performers, most people are looking around to see how other people are reacting. If people were laughing, they would start laughing too. But if people weren’t paying attention, they would also pay no mind.

Even when provided the blatantly obvious opportunity to judge someone, people are still thinking about how others may perceive them.

Once you understand that this is how people’s mind works, it’s a big step towards freedom.

You can’t please everyone

It’s impossible to live up to everyone’s expectations.
There will always be people — no matter what we say or how we treat them — that will judge us. Whether you’re at the gym, at work, taking the train, or even online playing Call of Duty. Even now it‘s happening. You will never be able to stop people from judging you, but you can stop it from affecting you.

Think about the worst thing that could possibly happen when someone is judging you or what you’re doing.

I guarantee that chances are — nothing will happen. Absolutely nothing.No one is going to go out of their busy lives to confront us, or even react for that matter. Because as I mentioned before, no one actually cares. What will happen, is that these people will actually respect you for claiming your ground. They may disagree with you, but they’ll respect you.

Start standing up for what you believe in — causes, opinions, anything. You’re going to have people that disagree with you anyways, so why not express how you truly feel?

“You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something in life.”— Winston Churchill

I’ve learnt that it’s better to be loved by a few people you care about, than to be liked by everyone. These are family, friends, spouse — the people who love you for who you are, and the people who will be there for you during your worst times. Focus on these people. They’re the only people that matter.

You reap what you sow

Worrying too much about what other people think can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, because the way we think starts to become the way we behave. These individuals become people-pleasers and overly accommodating to others, thinking it will stop them from being judged.
In fact, the opposite is true. Most people don’t like push-overs and are turned off by it. The behaviour we use in an attempt to please others, can actually cause the opposing effect.

If how we think affects our behaviours, then how we behave affects who we attract.

This means that if you’re a push-over, then you’re going to be attracting others in your life who are also push-overs. Vice versa.
This can be quite a dangerous path to go down if you don’t recognize its consequences.

It’s been said that we are the average of the five people we hang out with the most. When we start to attract and associate with the same people that share our weaknesses — we’re stuck. We stop growing, because there’s no one to challenge us to be better. We start thinking that this is the norm and we remain comfortable. This is not a place you want to be.

Now let’s talk about the cure. Here are 5 ways to stop giving a F@$%.

Reclaiming your freedom

1. Know your values

First and foremost. You need to know what’s important to you in life, what you truly value, and what you’re ultimately aiming for. Once you know who you really are and what matters to you, what other people think of you become significantly less important. When you know your values, you’ll have something to stand up for — something you believe in.

You’ll stop saying yes to everything. Instead, you’ll learn to say no when friends pressure you to go bar-hopping, or when a tempting business opportunity that distracts you from your business.

When you have your values straight, you have your shit straight.

2. Put yourself out there

Now that you know what your values are, it’s time to put yourself out there.

This can be done several ways. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Blogging
  • Wearing a polka-dot sweater
  • Public Speaking
  • Flirting/Asking someone out

Keep in mind that when you’re doing any of these activities, you have to speak your mind. Be honest with yourself and what you share, because the world doesn’t need another conflict-avoider who does what everyone else does.

3. Surround yourself with pros

Surround yourself with people who are self-assured, and live life without comprising their core values. These people will rub off on you quickly.

One of my best friends, Cody, has been a big influence on me. Having spent the summer with him, I’ve observed countless times where he strongly voiced his opinion on controversial topics. What I learned was that he was simply voicing opinions that people already had in their heads, but were too afraid to voice. People admired him for being so honest and direct, even when they disagreed with his views.

Thanks for not giving a F@$% Cody.

4. Create a “Growth List”

OK, now we’re getting personal.

I haven’t told anyone this, but I have this list called the “Growth List.”

A Growth List is comprised of all the things in life that makes you uncomfortable. These are fears, insecurities —anything that gives you the jitters.

My Growth List

Here’s how it works.

You start by writing all the things that make you feel uncomfortable.
Then one-by-one, you do them. Once you complete the task, you move on to the next. Repeat.

My first growth task was taking a cold shower. I turned the water as cold as it could get, and I could feel my body shake before I even entered the shower.This was the inner bullshit voice in my head talking.

It was hard at first. But surprisingly, it got easier the second time. Then even easier the third time. Before I knew it, my body stopped shaking — I was no longer uncomfortable, I’ve conquered my fear.

This exercise does wonders. I have yet to find a better way to get out of my comfortable zone. You can read all the books in the world about being confident or getting over your fears, but if you don’t take action, you’re just someone who’s read how to ride a bicycle without ever having ridden one.

5. Travel alone

If you’re looking for an ultimate transformation that combines all of the points above, you should travel alone. Traveling with other people can be fun, but you won’t get the opportunity to truly get out of your comfort zone.

You’ll be exposed to different social cultures, break social norms that you didn’t even know existed, and ultimately be forced to burst out of your small bubble.

Bring as little as possible, and fit everything into one backpack. Plan nothing, except for a one-way flight ticket to your destination — figure everything else out when you’re there. Trust me, you’ll be just fine.


It won’t be easy initially, but don’t get discouraged. Being comfortable with the uncomfortable will grow with time. I continue to struggle with it everyday, as do many others. But you need to get started today.

The world is already full of people who obey the status quo. But the people who don’t give a F@$% are the ones that change the world.
Be the latter.

Start living life the way you want, be fearless like you once were as a child, and always, always stand up for the truth.

Someone has to.

If you found this article helpful, share it with your loved ones. You can find me on Twitter @sseankim.

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Originally by my good friend, Sean Kim, posted at https://medium.com/life-hacking-2/46bf86584c95. Reposted with permission, good content deserves to be shared! If you use Medium, give him a recommendation if you liked it.

Longform Reflections

Bringing the Dead Back to Life

“IN THIS TEMPLE AS IN THE HEARTS OF THE PEOPLE FOR WHOM HE SAVED THE UNION THE MEMORY OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN  IS ENSHRINED FOREVER”

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Escaping Biology  

Ray Kurzweil is convinced that his father is going to come back from the dead.

He’s also convinced that he will be one of the people who will help bring him back. His father died when he in his early 20s, and they have not seen each other in 40 years, but Ray has kept enough of his old documents, and photos to remember his father by.

He’s not going to wait with a cache of relatives around the decayed body of his father, and apply electrical currents that will bring the blood racing back into his father. His father will not stumble around the room, dazed at the years he would have missed. They are never even going to physically touch, or look at each other. Instead, they’ll interact with glass screens.

His father will be a virtual avatar that will so closely resemble the biological consciousness that defined Ray Kurzweil’s fantastic quest, that Ray will not know the difference between his virtual and biological father.  It will be programmed through past artifacts to act, and think about the future like his father would have. His virtual father will be one of the holy grails of computing theory, an artificial intelligence that will have passed the Turing Test of being indistinguishable from a human.

Ray graduated from M.I.T, and he is now the Director of Engineering at Google, which puts some of the fiction out of the science component of this idea. He has been the leading proponent of the technological singularity, a moment in time when artificial intelligence will begin outpacing human intelligence, and where society will be upended by the combination of man and machine. As technology has gradually accelerated, the clarity of the vision of virtual life becomes more and more well-defined. Smartphones with more processing power than the supercomputers of years past are now the norm. Is it unfathomable that robots with human-like minds and spirits could be so far off?

Ray’s alma mater is a driving force behind this powerful thought. Every day, almost unbelievable things are accomplished through the manipulation of scientific research at M.I.T, from computers that can convey the sense of touch over different continents, to printers that will be able to spit out entire houses. It has been described as a “Hogwarts” for Muggles, a place where “magic” is common-place.

The metaphor is a beautiful one, but it begs another comparison that may not be so flattering. In the Harry Potter series, we are confronted with the search for the Deathly Hallows, among one of which is the Resurrection Stone. The Stone is able to bring the dead back to life, but at a terrible cost. The reincarnated dead are never truly like they were in life, which leads to a sense of dissonance from the living. This ironically leads to death for all, as the living choose to join the dead in their true form, rather than to accept living with a broken figment of a departed soul.

Questioning Identity

Will virtual intelligences ever be anything more than a figment of a real person? The question examines everything humans have always assumed about human nature: that we are unique, and that we are defined by our uniqueness against non-humans. We possess a strange combination of social interaction, physical manipulation, and processing power that is hard to define, so we often use comparisons to living things that are distinctly not human to define ourselves.

We are not cows. We are not dolphins. We are not chimpanzees, even though that is getting uncomfortably close.

The closer robots get to piercing that space, the more uncomfortable humans get with them. This is the “uncanny valley”. The more robots look, and act like humans, even if we distinctly know they are not, the more we revile them. Like the broken souls of the Ring, poorly designed robots can lead us to hate, and to pain, because they lead us to question who we truly are.

Virtual life that humans can accept must pass the Turing Test. It must fool a human into thinking that it too is a human, that it is really he or she. When Ray sits down to talk with his reincarnated father, he cannot be talking with a robot, but with a real, living human being that he has been yearning to speak to for forty long years.

Ray Kurzweil believes that will happen within a couple of decades.

That robot masquerading realistically as a human being will have all of the characteristics of the thoughts and patterns laid down by his father ages ago. It will be, Ray observes, more like his father than his father truly was due to robotic precision.

This is where the discomfort truly sets in. If robots can so accurately simulate the human condition, what truly makes us human?

The definition of human nature, and what is human or not has important implications. It is hard to imagine that the atrocities of the 20th century could have ever occurred if groups of humans regarded other groups with the basic respect and dignity they accorded to their own group. Indeed, the victims of atrocities have often been relegated to sub-human status: recall the Hutus of Rwanda who insisted on calling their Tutsi victims “cockroaches” during the infamous Rwandan genocide.

Who we are, and what we are here for defines a large part of the human condition. Any threat to the stable framework we have evolved of what is human and what is not represents a seismic change that brings opportunity, and risks.

How many among us would not want to hear the thoughts of Martin Luther King Junior on the civil rights issues of today—the thoughts of Harvey Milk on gay rights in present-day America, the thoughts of Abraham Lincoln on how he would run the country today, the thoughts of Kurt Vonnegut on modern-day warfare—how many among us would want to bring a loved one back, if only for one conversation, nevermind an infinite many…

Yet a virtual intelligence that can evolve beyond our comprehension, and that threatens the very foundation of our identity is nothing to be trifled with. It may be inevitable, but the ramifications are unclear. All that can be known, from a human perspective with our limited processing and predictive powers, is that there will be change of some sort.

Human Change

I would bring my grandfather back. He raised me when I was a baby, and he was ahead of his age. He insisted that my mother and her sisters get an education, even if that was not a popular view at the time. He survived fighting World War Two with his spirit intact. He is a large part of who I am, even if we never got the chance to have a full conversation.

When God burned down Sodom in Genesis, he commanded that the people not look back. In many ways, this command is a wise wall to insulate one from the tragedy and certainty of death. Nevertheless, it is a wall we have all attempted to scale, one way or another.

Lot’s wife famously disobeyed this command, peering back at the ruined city. As punishment, she was turned into a pillar of salt. As Vonnegut wrote, “And Lot’s wife, of course, was told not to look back where all those people and their homes had been. But she did look back, and I love her for that, because it was so human. So she was turned into a pillar of salt. So it goes.” So it goes.

Even if we are all turned into pillars of salt by this new possibility and the desires it creates, it occurs to me that nothing could be more human. Knowing that a part of you, and your loved ones endures, even if you do not, is something that is a constant desire of human nature. It is why we plant stones in the ground for those who passed, why in Chinese tradition we burn food and money for our ancestors, and why we build things for the future we will never enjoy ourselves.

In creating virtual reincarnations of the dead, we will be satisfying the most human of urges: the desire that you and the people you love will endure, and leave a legacy of ideas for future generations.

It may very well be the one defining trait that distinguishes us as humans.

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Want to check out more of Ray Kurzweil’s story?

 http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/futurist-ray-kurzweil-bring-dead-father-back-life/story?id=14267712

Want to know more about the technological singularity?

http://www.singularity.com/

Inspired to pick up coding and understanding machines?

http://www.code-love.com/2014/01/26/five-brilliant-resources-for-learning-how-to-code-design-and-think/#comment-5

Learning Lists

Five Brilliant Resources for Learning How to Code, Design, and Think

When I first founded my tech startup, I did it without any technology knowledge. I’ve now firmly realized that this was a mistake—but perhaps in many ways a benefit, as I have been forced to learn the importance of coding, and design, and how it can frame one’s mind into thinking a certain rational way that will help not only with coding websites, but with how to consider and reflect on a whole host of problems, and communicate solutions to them effectively.

Here are five great resources I used along the way to help my journey along from being a total code novice to being able to understand and communicate web technology.

1-      Bentobox.IO (full repository of links to different coding schools)

http://www.bentobox.io/

Bentobox is a comprehensive walkthrough on how to learn how to code multiple languages, and the fundamentals of the web. A great starting point to see where you should start if you don’t know anything at all about coding.

2-      Hacker News (reddit-like technology subsection focused on startup enterpreneurs)

https://news.ycombinator.com/

The virtual forum of the world-famous Y Combinator, I find it is a great resource for discussing with tech-minded individuals, and for seeing what’s going on in the technology space from people working on it every day. I guarantee that you’ll feel more at ease with technology and new ideas if you browse through it daily.

3-      Hack Design (emails sent to your inbox full of design goodness)

https://hackdesign.org/

When you think design, you might think of pretty pictures fitting together in beautiful ways, but it is so much more than that. Design is really placing yourself in the shoes of someone else and ensuring they have a great experience, instead of the experience you think they should have. Design is me saying this should help you, instead of me saying this helped me. For all of that good stuff, and pretty things falling together in pretty ways, check out Hack Design’s emails.

4-      CodeAcademy (gamified version of learning how to code)

http://www.codecademy.com/

Get a handle on how to think like a coder, and how to build some projects, all while having fun! You’ll have a blast running through CodeAcademy, and it definitely will help you understand the common logic that unites most coding languages, and to get a handle on how to go about building your first projects.

5-      JQuery’s user interface documentation (simple instructions and copy+paste on how to build in cool things into your web projects)

http://jqueryui.com/

Are you past the point where you can scurry around HTML and CSS with no pain? Wondering how to go about doing the really cool things web developers do—those datepickers, and autofill fields? Did you ace the JQuery track of CodeAcademy?

Before you go off wandering too much into Javascript land, check out the JQuery user interface. JQuery is a simplified library of code that allows you to take certain common features of a website and replicate them without knowing too much about Javascript. It takes many lines of codes in Javascript, and turns it into one word you can play around with. Playing around with it will allow you to firmly get the principles behind front-end code, and will allow you to build cool projects quickly.

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Nothing beats trying to build your projects out and marshaling whatever resources you can to get that done, once you’ve finished all this. People often have a misguided notion of how hard this can be coming from a non-technical background. I graduated in business, and I can firmly tell you that I fundamentally believe that everybody can understand the basics behind the web—and that they should attempt to do so. Good luck on your journey!

Technology and Society

A Moral Opinion on Bitcoin

Why ultimately the ideals of the system may triumph over its’ practicalities

On this, the 100th anniversary of the Federal Reserve System’s founding, it is worth remarking upon the mysterious Satoshi Nakamoto and his bitcoin creations.

Are bitcoins prone to speculative excess, are they under-regulated, do they have some aspects of a Ponzi scheme? Do they represent the same tired attitude of having to burn societal value (in this case electricity, processing power, and fans) to gain private value? Is it possible Satoshi will come back and show us all his true face, while taking the system away with him?

Yes to all.

However, the ideals behind bitcoin represent the technologist’s perspective on how to cut the bloated financial sector to size. Bitcoin allows for individuals to use digital means to escape the real pressing needs of dealing with conventional banking systems (such as privacy, and avoiding the double-count of money). On that rationale alone, I can support Bitcoin in principle. Bitcoin may have had its’ Silk Road, but Wachovia had the Mexican drug cartels.

If only the penalties for those responsible were equivalent. Wachovia, after all, was fined a small percentage of its’ yearly profits and allowed to largely maintain “business as usual”. In contrast, Silk Road was shut down, and its’ owner was arrested. It is abundantly clear where government power fears to tread. Eric Holder, attorney general of the United States, put it best when he declared that some banks were becoming “too big to prosecute”.

Major banks have been caught in the last five years laundering drug money, laundering money for terrorists, forging foreclosure documents, manipulating markets, manipulating key interest rates, pushing shoddy products on clients, taking on unneeded risk due to Excel errors (London Whale), and generating a whole host of economic bubbles that put food and commodities away from the reach of those that need them most. The most infuriating aspect of this is that most of the time, they did this while they were under taxpayer protection and funding.

The Federal Reserve System, while nominally supposed to act as a check on the banks, has become dependent upon them to a point where it is abundantly clear that alternatives to the bloated financial sector must be considered. While bitcoin may be imperfect in terms of some of its’ practicalities, ultimately the ideal behind bitcoin stands out as a laudable cause that will triumph in some form, sooner or later, if we properly apply the lessons we should have learned in the last 100 years.

Technology and Society

The 21st Century Prisoner’s Dilemma

Decreasing labor in order to salvage profits, to the detriment of both

A prisoner’s dilemma is when two groups that would be better off cooperating in order to achieve a higher coordinated payout choose instead to sacrifice their better aggregate payouts because their individual incentives lead them to forgo cooperation.

Typically represented in a matrix form, one way to conceptualize it is to describe the following scenario: I and Stephen Colbert are both in prison for being fearless conservatives.  We are given the choice to either be silent or to cooperate with the statist authorities by informing on the other. If we are both silent, we would get two years each in prison, if we both informed we would get three years in prison, and if one of us cooperated and the other remained silent, the one cooperating would be free, while the other who was silent would get five years.

It is in both of our private interests to inform on the other, because then we face a choice between freedom if the other was silent, and three years if the other informed, rather than in the case of if we choose to be silent, in which case we face either two years in prison if the other was silent, and five years if the other informed.

In aggregate that means instead of having two years in prison if we both were silent, we will both inform on one another and get a negative aggregate outcome of having three years in prison each because it is in our private interest to arrive to this equilibrium, since both of us will seek the better payoff of informing on the other. We will harm each other as we seek to help ourselves.


The 21st century’s prisoner’s dilemma will be that every firm will not want to hire workers, but will want every other firm to hire workers in order to have a consumer base for itself. This is because the private payoff of having less labor (and saving on what for many businesses is the largest cost) is such a powerful private incentive. Despite what other businesses do in aggregate, it will almost always be better for the individual firm to shed workers.

Unfortunately, this will lead to a worse social equilibrium. Castes of the unemployed, political and economic volatility, and staggering inequality may become the norm. Ironically, this economic chaos will then lead to lower profits, as less consumers will be able to buy most products. If left unchecked, lower private costs will be overwhelmed by higher social costs.

The 1950s saw the rise of the Great Society, the establishment of the welfare state, and of mass infrastructure projects that set the foundation of the 20th century. We will have to do even better to build the 21st century, and ensure a balence between private and social incentives.

(Now please help break me and Stephen out of prison!)

Defining the Future

Defining Big Data in Less Than Three Minutes

I remember the first time I said the word “big data” with pride when describing my work. It, like every good buzzword, meant nothing to me, but conveyed a lot to my imagined prospective audience. It said something about my intelligence that I was working in “big data”, plying away at Excel sheets with way too many lines—a sure sign of a “big data” expert!

I know better now. After doing some research, I’m proud to say that I knew absolutely nothing about the topic at the time. In many ways, I still don’t—but I know enough to talk about the basics of “big data” and what it really represents, so you can explore with me.

The first step is to realize that big data represents data that is so large and complex that conventional data tools such as the table-based SQL cannot handle the load. Big data is not simply a big dataset that can be handled with Excel. Think of, for example, someone tracking every time someone commented on Ahnold’s accent on social media, their location, and other user attributes, in a mad quest to find who had the best “get to the choppa!” or “there is no bathroom!” quote variations: you’d quickly go mad trying to pass through every single one of those data points in a relational table or in an Excel file, even if you worked for a large Arnold-watching company, and had a set data process.

An easy rule of thumb to describe this is to say that big data refers to data sets that become difficult for an organization with a conventional data process to handle. This can be on several orders of magnitude. A smaller business may struggle with a lower threshold than a larger one. Nevertheless, it is the beginning of the struggle, and the search for alternatives to bread-and-butter SQL/Excel that is at the core of big data.

Traditional data tends to group data into tables, and operates with a smaller number of servers. Big data tends to ungroup data, and organize and analyze data through parallel processing across a larger number of servers.

When people in the field comment about the possibilities offered by big data, they are espousing the collection of unfathomable amounts of details we are now leaving on the web which was impossible five or ten years ago—because there were not so many details on the web, and there were no tools to collect them. Now with smartphones, sensors, and social media, data points are multiplying on an exponential level. Those who would take a dragnet over all of this data, pry them through tools not traditionally used in data collection that spread the volume and velocity of data over several servers instead of one or two, and then emerge with finely combed and actionable insights despite the overbearingly massive amount of data, are dealing with big data. This includes the NSA, but also data scientists who won the 2012 election, and health analysts working to ensure better care for all.

Please contribute to big data by commenting or forwarding me your terabytes of favorite Ahnold quotes.

It’s probably big data: new tools and terms

Hadoop

NoSQL

MapReduce

MongoDB

Look at me in very not-tabled Javascript Object Notation, a favorite of web-based Big Data databases:

JSON

JSON in relation to Big Data

 

It’s probably not big data

Your Excel spreadsheets of political enemies, no matter how many you have

Your Excel spreadsheets of dateable people, no matter how many you have

Your SQL tables of your favorite Arnold movies, and quotes contained within

Your handwritten list of things you would do for a Klondike bar

Look at me in traditional SQL table form:

SQL

SQL in relation to Big Data