If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Paradise or Oblivion | The Venus Project

This documentary details the root causes of the systemic value disorders and detrimental symptoms caused by our current established system. This video presentation advocates a new socio-economic system, which is updated to present-day knowledge, featuring the life-long work of Social Engineer, Futurist, Inventor and Industrial Designer Jacque Fresco, which he calls a Resource-Based Economy.

The film details the need to outgrow the dated and inefficient methods of politics, law, business, or any other "establishment" notions of human affairs, and use the methods of science, combined with high technology, to provide for the needs of all the world's people. It is not based on the opinions of the political and financial elite or on illusionary so-called democracies, but on maintaining a dynamic equilibrium with the planet that could ultimately provide abundance for all people.

Paradise or Oblivion, by The Venus Project, introduces the viewer to a more appropriate value system that would be required to enable this caring and holistic approach to benefit human civilization. This alternative surpasses the need for a monetary-based, controlled, and scarcity-oriented environment, which we find ourselves in today.

Paradise or Oblivion

Quantum: Music at the Frontier of Science | Institute for Quantum Computing

The Institute for Quantum Computing and the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony teamed up to create "Quantum: Music at the Frontier of Science" in February 2012. The innovative concert explored the history of music and quantum science over the past century through music and narrative. The standing-room-only concerts were part of the K-W Symphony's "Intersections Series" and were held at the Conrad Centre for the Performing Arts in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada.

Quantum: Music at the Frontier of Science

The Making of the Quantum Symphony

Beyond Princess Leia in a Beam of Light: A Glimpse into the Future of Augmented Reality

There is something incredibly right about the vision George Lucas showed us back in 1977. Displays that hover in the air between us promise a world that privileges face to face communication -- a far more human-centric vision than our current reality, in which we spend our days staring into computer screens.

Such holographic displays are not yet practical, but one day they will be. Meanwhile, through real-time video chat enhanced by capture of gestures and head positions via depth cameras, we can start to experience -- and design for -- that future.

We will describe and demo our system, ARCADE, that creates the appearance of a holographic projection floating between people in a live video chat, and allows those people to enhance their communication by interacting with objects in this virtual projection. There are immediate applications in educational settings and for increasing the power of live multi-way video communication.

Presented by Prof. Ken Perlin, NYU.

Beyond Princess Leia in a Beam of Light: A Glimpse into the Future of Augmented Reality

Marco Tempest spins a beautiful story of what magic is, how it entertains us and how it highlights our humanity -- all while working extraordinary illusions with his hands and an augmented reality machine.

Marco Tempest: A magical tale (with augmented reality)

Thursday, March 29, 2012

SPAIN REVOLT - Millions Mobilize as General Strike Brings Spain to Standstill

Full Gallery - Huelga General del 29 de marzo

A day before the government is set to vote on Europe’s most dramatic austerity budget, millions walk off their jobs in the first general strike since 2010.

Millions of Spaniards are walking off their jobs today in a massive general strike and a series of protest marches against the proposed austerity budget and labor reforms of Prime Minister Rajoy’s 4-month old conservative government. As the Spanish debt crisis deepens — at 23 percent, unemployment is the highest in the Western world — financial markets and EU leaders are demanding even more far-reaching reforms and austerity measures than in Greece.

As a result, the Spanish government is set to vote tomorrow on Europe’s most dramatic austerity budget, with another 40 billion euros expected to be cut on top of 15 billion in cuts already announced three months ago. The austerity measures come after a series of radical labor reforms enacted last month that make it much easier for employers to lay off workers, cut wages and modify pre-existing labor agreements.

Owing to the profound unpopularity of these measures, labor unions claim a massive participation of 85-90 percent, with industry and transport most heavily affected. Many large cities ground to a halt as trains and buses only run at 30 percent of capacity, picketers blocked access to stations, and hundreds of protesters occupied a major access road to Madrid. Riot police were deployed in a desperate attempt to allow large main street shops to open.

Nevertheless, the government still claims that the situation in the cities is “normal” and assured that it would not allow the country’s largest strike in years to upset its austerity drive. But with the economy set to contract by 1.7 percent this year, labor unions correctly point out that Spain risks following the fate of Greece, where radical reforms and draconian austerity measures tipped the country into a negative spiral of economic decline and social unrest.

Interestingly, today’s strike — initially called for by the anarcho-syndicalist CNT — is widely supported by members of the decentralized indignados movement. Major marches are planned throughout the country for Thursday night, with the march in Madrid culminating in the capital’s iconic Puerta del Sol, the square that was occupied by hundreds of thousands of outraged protesters last spring.

Katherine Unger was therefore correct to point out that “Spain’s general strike is also a day of action for the 99%.” With financial markets pushing the people to the brink of despair, popular support for radical action is rapidly being ramped up. Now that the indignados are preparing for a spring of discontent, culminating into a global day of action on May 12, a powerful sign is being given to those in power: as their system crumbles, our movement grows ever stronger.

Source: Millions mobilize as general strike brings Spain to standstill

Video que quiso censurar el PP de la huelga general del 29 de Marzo grabado desde un helicóptero

Violence flares during Spain general strike

Spanish Rampage: General strike erupts in street violence

Graves disturbios en Barcelona

Spain Barcelona General Strike 29/3/2012

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Free Will | Sam Harris

Sam Harris is the author of the New Work Times bestsellers, The Moral Landscape, The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation. His new book is short (96) pages, to the point, and will change the way we all view free will, as Oliver Sacks wrote: "Brilliant and witty - and never less than incisive - Free Will shows that Sam Harris can say more in 13,000 words than most people do in 100,000." UCSD neuroscientist V.S, Ramachandran notes: "In this elegant and provocative book, Sam Harris demonstrates - with great intellectual ferocity and panache - that free will is an inherently flawed and incoherent concept, even in subjective terms. If he is right, the book will radically change the way we view ourselves as human beings"

Sam Harris on "Free Will"

The Universe in a Single Atom | Dalai Lama

Mind and Life XIV -- Dialogues on "The Universe in a Single Atom"

Part I: The Buddhism-Science Collaboration and the Limits of Scientific Knowledge: Exposing the Fracture Points. Dialogue Leader: Evan Thompson

Part II: Atomism, Emptiness, Interdependence and the Role of the Observer in Quantum Physics and Buddhism. Dialogue Leaders: Anton Zeilinger and Arthur Zajonc

In addition to being a scientific autobiography, the Dalai Lama's book "The Universe in a Single Atom: the Convergence of Science and Spirituality" highlights those issues he feels are most important in the "convergence of science and spirituality." These issues and questions form the focus of the Mind and Life XIV meeting, and become the foundation on which a group of scientists develop a deep dialogue with the Dalai Lama and other Buddhist scholar-practitioners.

Mind and Life XIV -- Day 1 am - with the Dalai Lama

Mind and Life XIV -- Day 1 pm - with the Dalai Lama

Cosmology and the Relativity of Space and Time. Dialogue Leaders: George Greenstein and Arthur Zajonc

Mind and Life XIV -- Day 2 am - with the Dalai Lama

Mind and Life XIV -- Day 2 pm - with the Dalai Lama

Evolution, Altruism and the Fundamental Nature of Human Emotion. Dialogue Leaders: Ben Shapiro, Paul Ekman, Richard Davidson and Matthieu Ricard

Mind and Life XIV -- Day 3 am - with the Dalai Lama

Mind and Life XIV -- Day 3 pm - with the Dalai Lama

Consciousness. Dialogue Leaders: Wolf Singer, Richard Davidson and Evan Thompson

Mind and Life XIV -- Day 4 am - with the Dalai Lama

Mind and Life XIV -- Day 4 pm - with the Dalai Lama

A Nobel Surprise: The Accelerating Universe | Robert Kirshner

Robert Kirshner, Clowes Professor of Science, Harvard University, delivered the inaugural Gruber Science Fellowship Lecture on 28 February 2012 in the Hall of Graduate Studies. The Gruber Science Fellowship Lectures bring renowned scientists to campus to speak about the current state of knowledge in their fields.

A Nobel Surprise: The Accelerating Universe

From Mach-20 Glider to Humming Bird Drone | Regina Dugan [TEDx]

"What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?" asks Regina Dugan, then director of DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. In this breathtaking talk she describes some of the extraordinary projects -- a robotic hummingbird, a prosthetic arm controlled by thought, and, well, the internet -- that her agency has created by not worrying that they might fail.

Regina Dugan: From mach-20 glider to humming bird drone

Federal Reserve Aid to the Eurozone: Its Impact on the U.S. and the Dollar | Ron Paul vs Fed

United States House of Representatives, Committee on Financial Services, Subcommittee on Domestic Monetary Policy and Technology, Hearing on "Federal Reserve Aid to the Eurozone: Its Impact on the U.S. and the Dollar", March 27, 2012

The Federal Reserve has recently begun to engage in an ongoing bailout of the European monetary system. Under the guise of providing dollar liquidity to strained European financial markets, the Fed is creating hundreds of billions of dollars out of thin air to prop up the euro. While still well under their 2008 peak, these latest dollar swap agreements are nonetheless a thinly-disguised bailout. Congress has been far too lenient in allowing the Fed to engage in unprecedented monetary policy operations without informing or explaining its actions to Congress. The American people need to understand the effects these actions have on the dollar so that the Fed can be held accountable. I hope that this hearing will get much-needed answers to the very important questions surrounding the Fed’s involvement in bailing out Europe.

For over 40 years, the Fed has been creating money out of thin air, propping up Wall Street while destroying the value of the dollar. This excessive money creation is what caused the financial crisis, yet just as a dog returns to its vomit, the Fed thinks that continuing to print money will somehow end the crisis. The trillions of dollars the Fed has created have eviscerated the purchasing power of American consumers, as anyone who has set foot inside a grocery store can see. While the government's official inflation rate is hovering around three percent, the original method of calculating the price index indicates that price inflation is over ten percent, which is more in line with what consumers are experiencing.

Despite a world awash in dollars, the Fed continues to view the cause of every financial problem as a dearth of liquidity. When the banks say they do not have enough money, the Fed unquestionably believes them and provides them with new dollars created from nothing. But a bank saying that there is not enough money is like a broke college student saying that there are not enough Ferraris. What he really means is that there are not enough Ferraris for sale at a price that he can afford. The same is true with banks; there are plenty of dollars available for banks to borrow, but the banks don't want to pay the going interest rate on loans, so they run to the central bank for cheap money.

Much of the Fed's intervention in the U.S. has been undertaken in an attempt to reflate the housing market. Rather than allowing house prices to fall so that supply and demand will re-equilibrate, the Fed has pumped liquidity into the system in an attempt to keep prices elevated. The federal funds rate has been kept artificially low for over three years now, and according to the Fed will be kept near zero for at least three years more. Because the Federal Reserve is so used to manipulating interest rates, it fails to see that interest rates are a price, the price of money and credit. While American banks may not be willing to lend dollars short-term to ailing European banks at 0.25 or 0.50%, you can bet that there would be a lot more dollars available to loan at 2, 3, or 4%. But in order for the markets to adjust and price loans at a market-clearing rate, the Fed needs to abstain from intervening to short-circuit this price discovery process.

The Federal Reserve has pumped trillions of dollars into the American financial system, with banks now holding $1.5 trillion of excess reserves at the Fed, money which is literally just sitting there. The Fed pays an 0.25% interest rate on those excess reserves, which lessens the incentive of the banks to loan those funds to anyone, regardless of how safe the loan might be. This leads to a lessened availability of credit both domestically and abroad, with the result that credit markets are more contracted than they otherwise might be. The Fed views this credit market contraction as having its root in insufficient liquidity, which it then attempts to counteract by creating more money.

This time around, the newly created dollars are being loaned through swap lines to the European Central Bank (ECB) in exchange for euros. The ECB loans the dollars to struggling European banks in exchange for collateral. Once those loans are repaid and the swap lines expire, the ECB returns the dollars to the Fed and takes back its euros. The interest rate on these loans is about 0.6%, so it is not surprising that American banks are keeping their excess reserves safe at the Federal Reserve. After all, why loan dollars to weak and risky European banks at 0.6% when you can get a guaranteed 0.25% from the Federal Reserve? So the dollar markets dry up and the Fed steps in to "fix" the problem it created.

We have to question what will happen if these loans from the ECB to European banks go bad. What happens if a major bank fails? If the ECB cannot return dollars to the Fed, does the Fed keep the euros it received from the ECB? Does it receive European government bonds, perhaps Greek bonds? Does it have recourse to the ECB's gold, as Chairman Bernanke alluded to last week?

Even more importantly, what is the impact of these programs on the dollar and on the U.S. economy? While the Fed seems to think that these swap lines eventually will be drawn back down to zero, what happens in the meantime? These hundreds of billions of dollars may be created out of thin air, but their effects on the real economy are anything but ephemeral. And the Fed has failed to consider the possibility that these swap lines may rise even higher than the $600 billion level that was reached in 2008. Given the still precarious position of European governments and the European financial system, it would not be surprising to see a few hundred billion dollars more being created to continue the bailout of the euro.

The Fed's continued intervention in financial markets creates a climate of uncertainty. For almost five years, financial institutions have had to wonder from one day to the next what the Fed will do. Will it continue with more asset purchases under its policy of quantitative easing? Will it bailout large firms in danger of collapse or allow them to fail? Will it allow markets to function or continue its intervention? In such uncertain times it is only natural for firms to sit back and wait to see what happens. And every action by the Fed, every attempt at stimulus, rather than placating that uncertainty, instead exacerbates it. The Fed's actions destroy markets, erode the earnings and savings of Americans, and sow the seeds for the next great crisis. I hope that this hearing is yet another step in holding the Fed accountable and will help both Members and the American people reconsider the necessity of a central bank.


· William Dudley, President & CEO, Federal Reserve Bank of New York

· Steven B. Kamin, Director, Division of International Finance, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System

DMP Eurozone Bailout Hearing

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A Universe of Self-replicating Code | George Dyson

What we're missing now, on another level, is not just biology, but cosmology. People treat the digital universe as some sort of metaphor, just a cute word for all these products. The universe of Apple, the universe of Google, the universe of Facebook, that these collectively constitute the digital universe, and we can only see it in human terms and what does this do for us?

We're missing a tremendous opportunity. We're asleep at the switch because it's not a metaphor. In 1945 we actuallydidcreate a new universe. This is a universe of numbers with a life of their own, that we only see in terms of what those numbers can do for us. Can they record this interview? Can they play our music? Can they order our books on Amazon? If you cross the mirror in the other direction, there really is a universe of self-reproducing digital code. When I last checked, it was growing by five trillion bits per second. And that's not just a metaphor for something else. It actually is. It's a physical reality.

[GEORGE DYSON:] When I started looking at the beginnings of the modern digital universe—at the origin of this two-dimensional address matrix—I became interested in the question of what had been done with it at the beginning. Of course, one of the things was the work on the hydrogen bomb.

Another thing that surprised and delighted me was to find that a Norwegian-Italian mathematical biologist and viral geneticist, Nils Aall Barricelli, had tried to come to Princeton in 1951, as soon as he heard this machine was being built. He had trouble getting a visa, so he finally shows up in early 1953 when the machine is running, and immediately begins these experiments, to see if he could inoculate this two-dimensional matrix with random strings of one-dimensional numbers that can self-replicate and cross-breed, and do all the things that we know that code does in biology, and see what happens.

And he observed. He was an observational biologist. He saw all sorts of behavior that he read all sorts of biological implications into. He was way too far ahead of the time, so no one paid attention and this was forgotten. We now live in a world where everything he dreamed of really did happen. And, for some reason, von Neumann never publicized Barricelli's work. I don't know if there was a personal rivalry or what happened, but von Neumann died, and his papers on self-reproducing automata were published posthumously [edited by Arthur W. Burks] and there was no mention of Barricelli. Part of it was this fear that it really would provoke the public. They called computers "electronic brains" at that time. It was scary enough that we might be building machines that would think. But the idea of producing artificial life was even more Frankenstein-like. I think that's one reason we never heard about that.

Just as we later worried about recombinant DNA, what if these things escaped? What would they do to the world? Could this be the end of the world as we know it if these self-replicating numerical creatures got loose?

But, we now live in a world where theydid get loose—a world increasingly run by self-replicating strings of code. Everything we love and use today is, in a lot of ways, self-reproducing exactly as Turing, von Neumann, and Barricelli prescribed. It's a very symbiotic relationship: the same way life found a way to use the self-replicating qualities of these polynucleotide molecules to the great benefit of life as a whole, there's no reason life won't use the self-replicating abilities of digital code, and that's what's happening. If you look at what people like Craig Venter and the thousand less-known companies are doing, we're doing exactly that, from the bottom up.

The defining moment for me was when I went back to Princeton to visit the scene of all of this. I believe in revisiting the physical scene of something, because you get cues that just aren't there from looking at documents. I went down in the basement to find the room where they had started building this machine in 1946. It's the storeroom in the basement next to the boiler room at the Institute for Advanced Study. It was the worst possible room in the building. I went back there in 2005, 60 years later, and it happened to be the main server room for the Institute. The Institute for Advanced Study is now connected to the entire rest of the world, and they had 54 megabits per second of fiber-optic data coming in and out.

When the engineer there on duty gave me a tour the most remarkable thing was an entire server, very high-end, very sophisticated—a few years ago, we would have called it a supercomputer. It was sitting there on the top shelf, and all the fiber-optic lines were going through it, and its sole, 24 hour a day job, was monitoring all the data coming in, trying to keep out self-replicating strings of code—trying to guard against what Barricelli had been trying to do at the beginning. So clearly, Barricelli's experiment was a tremendous success. It's almost so successful we can't see it, because it's happening all around us.

What's, in a way, missing in today's world is more biology of the Internet. More people like Nils Barricelli to go out and look at what's going on, not from a business or what's legal point of view, but just to observe what's going on.

Many of these things we read about in the front page of the newspaper every day, about what's proper or improper, or ethical or unethical, really concern this issue of autonomous self-replicating codes. What happens if you subscribe to a service and then as part of that service, unbeknownst to you, a piece of self-replicating code inhabits your machine, and it goes out and does something else? Who is responsible for that? And we're in an increasingly gray zone as to where that's going.

The most virulent codes, of course, are parasitic, just as viruses are. They're codes that go out and do things, particularly codes that go out and gather money. Which is essentially what these things like cookies do. They are small strings of code that go out and gather valuable bits of information, and they come back and sell it to somebody. It's a very interesting situation. You would have thought this was inconceivable 20 or 30 years ago. Yet, you probably wouldn't have to go … well, we're in New York, not San Francisco, but in San Francisco, you wouldn't have to go five blocks to find five or 10 companies whose income is based on exactly that premise. And doing very well at it.

Walking over here today, just three blocks from my hotel, the street right out front is blocked off. There are 20 police cars out there and seven satellite news vans, because Apple is releasing a new code. They're couching it as releasing a new piece of hardware, but it's really a new gateway into the closed world of Apple's code. And that's enough to block human traffic.

Why is Apple one of the world's most valuable companies? It's not only because their machines are so beautifully designed, which is great and wonderful, but because those machines represent a closed numerical system. And they're making great strides in expanding that system. It's no longer at all odd to have a Mac laptop. It's almost the normal thing.

But I'd like to take this to a different level, if I can change the subject... Ten or 20 years ago I was preaching that we should look at digital code as biologists: the Darwin Among the Machines stuff. People thought that was crazy, and now it's firmly the accepted metaphor for what's going on. And Kevin Kelly quoted me in Wired, he asked me for my last word on what companies should do about this. And I said, "Well, they should hire more biologists."

But what we're missing now, on another level, is not just biology, but cosmology. People treat the digital universe as some sort of metaphor, just a cute word for all these products. The universe of Apple, the universe of Google, the universe of Facebook, that these collectively constitute the digital universe, and we can only see it in human terms and what does this do for us?

We're missing a tremendous opportunity. We're asleep at the switch because it's not a metaphor. In 1945 we actuallydidcreate a new universe. This is a universe of numbers with a life of their own, that we only see in terms of what those numbers can do for us. Can they record this interview? Can they play our music? Can they order our books on Amazon? If you cross the mirror in the other direction, there really is a universe of self-reproducing digital code. When I last checked, it was growing by five trillion bits per second. And that's not just a metaphor for something else. It actually is. It's a physical reality.

Continue reading - A Universe of Self-replicating Code

MUST READ! A Conversation with Peter Thiel

Francis Fukuyama: I’d like to begin by asking you about a point you made about there being certain liberal and conservative blind spots about America. What did you mean by that?

Peter Thiel: On the surface, one of the debates we have is that people on the Left, especially the Occupy Wall Street movement, focus on income and wealth inequality issues—the 99 percent versus the 1 percent. It’s evident that both forms of inequality have escalated at a very high rate. Probably from 1973 to today, they have gone up faster than they did in the 19th century. The rapid rise in inequality has been an issue that the Right has not been willing to engage. It tends either to say it’s not true or that it doesn’t matter. That’s a very strange blind spot. Obviously if you extrapolate an exponential function it can go a lot further. We’re now at an extreme comparable to 1913 or 1928; on a worldwide basis we’ve probably surpassed the 1913 highs and are closer to 1789 levels.

In the history of the modern world, inequality has only been ended through communist revolution, war or deflationary economic collapse. It’s a disturbing question which of these three is going to happen today, or if there’s a fourth way out. On the Right, the Tea Party argument has been about government corruption—not ethical violations necessarily, but inefficiency, that government can’t do anything right and wastes money. I believe that is true, and that this problem has gotten dramatically worse. There are ways that the government is working far less well than it used to. Just outside my office is the Golden Gate Bridge. It was built under FDR’s Administration in the 1930s in about three and a half years. They’re currently building an access highway on one of the tunnels that feeds into the bridge, and it will take at least six years to complete.

Francis Fukuyama: And it will require countless environmental permits, litigation, and so on.

Peter Thiel: Yes. There’s an overall sense that in many different domains the government is working incredibly inefficiently and poorly. On the foreign policy side you can flag the wars in the Middle East, which have cost a lot more than we thought they should have. You can point to quasi-governmental things like spending on health care and education, where costs are spinning out of control. There’s some degree to which government is doing the same for more, or doing less for the same. There’s a very big blind spot on the Left about government waste and inefficiency.

In some ways these two debates, though they seem very different, ought to be seen as two sides of the same coin. The question is, should rich people keep their money or should the government take it? The anti-rich argument is, “Yes, because they already have too much.” The anti-government argument is, “No, because the government would just waste it.”

I think if you widen the aperture a bit on the economic level, though I identify with the libertarian Right, I do think it is incumbent on us to rethink the history of the past forty years. In particular, the Reagan history of the 1980s needs to be rethought thoroughly. One perspective is that the libertarian, small-government view is not a timeless truth but was a contingent response to the increasing failure of government, which was manifesting itself in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The response was that resources should be kept in the private sector. Then economic theories, like Laffer’s supply-side economics, provided political support for that response, even if they weren’t entirely accurate. We can say that the economic theories didn’t work as advertised, but for Obama to try to undo Reagan-era policies, he would have to deal with the political realities those theories were confronting. We cannot simply say things went wrong with credit creation in the 1980s; we also have to deal with government malfunction in the 1970s.

So you have these two different blind spots on the Left and Right, but I’ve been more interested in their common blind spot, which we’re less likely to discuss as a society: technological deceleration and the question of whether we’re still living in a technologically advancing society at all. I believe that the late 1960s was not only a time when government stopped working well and various aspects of our social contract began to fray, but also when scientific and technological progress began to advance much more slowly. Of course, the computer age, with the internet and web 2.0 developments of the past 15 years, is an exception. Perhaps so is finance, which has seen a lot of innovation over the same period (too much innovation, some would argue).

There has been a tremendous slowdown everywhere else, however. Look at transportation, for example: Literally, we haven’t been moving any faster. The energy shock has broadened to a commodity crisis. In many other areas the present has not lived up to the lofty expectations we had. I think the advanced economies of the world fundamentally grow through technological progress, and as their rate of progress slows, they will have less growth. This creates incredible pressures on our political systems. I think the political system at its core works when it crafts compromises in which most people benefit most of the time. When there’s no growth, politics becomes a zero-sum game in which there’s a loser for every winner. Most of the losers will come to suspect that the winners are involved in some kind of racket. So I think there’s a close link between technological deceleration and increasing cynicism and pessimism about politics and economics.

I think, therefore, that our problems are completely misdiagnosed. The debates are all about macroeconomics, about how much money we should print. I think you can print more money and have inflation, or stop printing money and have deflation. Bad inflation involves commodity prices and inputs, and bad deflation involves people’s wages, salaries and house prices. But the middle-way Goldilocks version, where commodity prices and consumer goods go down and wages go up, seems very farfetched. I don’t see how that sort of outcome can be crafted in a world with no growth.

Francis Fukuyama: I understand you’re part of the inspiration behind Tyler Cowen’s book The Great Stagnation. Apart from being a former colleague of mine, he’s on the editorial board of The American Interest.

Peter Thiel: He did very graciously dedicate the book to me, and it’s an incredibly powerful articulation of this theme on many different levels. I think the question of technological dynamism isn’t often examined, but when you look into it you see many problems, from transportation failures to the space program and the Concorde decommissioning to how the energy failure allows oil price shocks to undo the price improvements of the previous century. Think of the famous 1980 Paul Ehrlich-Julian Simon wager about resource scarcity. Simon may have won the bet a decade later, but since 1993, on a rolling decade basis, Ehrlich has been winning famously. This is something that has not registered with the political class at all.

Francis Fukuyama: That’s an early sign that we may be moving into a zero-sum world.

You made your fortune initially in Silicon Valley. Your assertions may raise a lot of eyebrows, because skeptics would say, “What about the whole boom of the 1980s?” There’s that famous Robert Solow quote from 1987, “You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.”1 Econometricians finally began detecting that productivity jump in a more significant way in the 1990s. I would think that rather than arguing in general that there has been a technological slowdown, the more socially important argument is that the distributional impact of all the cutting-edge technological changes that have occurred over the past generation go overwhelmingly to the smart and well-educated. If you had great math skills during the agrarian economy of the 19th century, there weren’t many jobs where you could exploit that and get really rich. Now you can go to Wall Street or become a software programmer. So there’s something about the progress we’ve had that has overlain the increasing inequality you’ve pointed to.

Peter Thiel: I don’t entirely agree with that description. My claim is not that there has been no technological progress, just deceleration. If we look at technological progress during most of the 19th and 20th centuries, it brought significant disruption. If you built horse buggies for a living, you would be out of work when the Ford Motor Company came along. In effect, over time labor was freed up to do more productive things. And on the whole, people got to be better off. I think the larger trend is just that there has been stagnation. There are debates about how to precisely measure these statistics, but the ones I’ve looked at suggest that median wages since 1973 have been mostly flat. Mean wages have gone up maybe 20–25 percent, which is the greater inequality, an anemic 0.6–0.7 per year. And if you confiscated the wealth of all the billionaires in the United States, the amount would pay for the deficits for only six months. There has been this increase in inequality, but it’s a secondary truth. The primary truth is this truth of stagnation.

As for why inequality has gone up, you could point to the technology, as you just have. You could also point to financialization of the economy, but I would say globalization has played a much greater role because it has been the much greater trend. Even though there have been a lot of bumps in the road, your “End of History” strikes me as very much true today. Globalization has been incredibly powerful, far more so than people could have realistically expected in 1970. The question is, what is there about globalization that creates a winner-take-all world? There certainly has been a labor arbitrage with China that has been bad for the middle class, as well as for white-collar workers, in the past decade or two.

Consider, too, that in 1960 we spoke of the First World and the Third World; today we speak of the developed world and the developing world, the part that is looking to copy the West. The developed world is where we expect nothing more to happen. The earlier dichotomy was fairly pro-technology and in some ways more agnostic on the prospects for globalization. The present dichotomy is extremely bullish on globalization and implicitly pessimistic about technology. Of course, we can point to the great fortunes that have been made in the tech industry, but of the great fortunes that have been made in the world over the past twenty or thirty years, most have not been made in technology. Look at the Russian oligarchs. Maybe one out of a hundred billionaires has a tech-related fortune. The others are a political thing linked somehow to globalization. So that’s why I think it’s important to quantify these things correctly. We tend to focus a lot on the optimistic tech narrative that notes a lot of progress, but I think the more important question is why it hasn’t been happening.

There certainly are a lot of areas of technology where, if it were progressing, we would expect a lot of jobs to be created. The classic example would be clean technology, alternate energy technology. If you were to retool the economy toward more efficient forms of energy, one would realistically expect that to create millions of jobs. The problem with that retooling is that the clean technology just doesn’t work—namely, it doesn’t do more for less. It costs much more, so it isn’t working—at least not yet.

Continue reading - A Conversation with Peter Thiel

Monday, March 26, 2012

ZDay 2012 in Cardiff | The Zeitgeist Movement

Z-Day 2012 @ Full Moon, Cardiff (Wales, UK) Presentation no.1 by Justin Lilley from Positive Money

Z-Day2012 - Part 1 - Justin Liley - Positive Money

Z-Day 2012 @ Full Moon, Cardiff (Wales, UK) Presentation no.2 by Adam Buick from World Socialist Movement

Z-Day2012 - Part 2 - Adam Buick - World Socialist Movement

Z-Day 2012 @ Full Moon, Cardiff (Wales, UK) Presentation no.3 - Deflation by Vivak Shori from Zeitgeist Cardiff

Z-Day2012 - Part 3 - Vivak Shori - Deflation

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Character of Physical Law | Richard Feynman

Richard Feynman was obviously famous for his work as a physicist, but he's also widely regarded as one of the most lucid and effective lecturers to ever address an audience. So renowned, so readily accessible were his presentations, that his introductory physics lectures (which he delivered to undergraduates at Caltech) have since been immortalized in the form of a three-volume set called, quite simply, The Feynman Lectures.

The set is a phenomenal resource to anyone with even a passing interest in the physical world and the laws that govern it — but even these lectures cannot capture the essence of what it might have been like to attend a presentation given by Feynman himself.

Fortunately for all of us, in 1964, Feynman delivered a series of seven, hour-long lectures at Cornell University. Those lectures were recorded by the BBC, and in 2009 (with a little help from Bill Gates), they were released to the public. You'll find all seven of them featured below, but you'll also want to check out the lectures on Microsoft's Project Tuva, where they have been carefully edited to include closed captioning and annotations.

Source: Watch a series of seven brilliant lectures by Richard Feynman

Lecture 1: Law of Gravitation - An Example of Physical Law

After a brief introduction by Dale Corson, Dr. Richard Feynman discusses the physical law of gravity. He covers its origins through scientific discoveries in astronomy and also Newton's contribution. He then discusses its implications and relationship to other laws.

Richard Feynman - The Character of Physical Law - Part 1 The Law of Gravitation - An Example of Physical Law

Lecture 2: The Relation of Mathematics and Physics

In this lecture, Dr. Richard Feynman explores the relationship between mathematics and physics. He discusses the use of mathematics, its power as a reasoning tool, the two traditions in science, and the fact that pursuits in physics have many possible starting points.

Richard Feynman - The Character of Physical Law - Part 2 The Relation of Mathematics to Physics

Lecture 3: The Great Conservation Principles

In this lecture, Dr. Richard Feynman discusses the great conservation principles including those related to electric charge, baryons, strangeness, energy, and angular momentum. He also discusses locality and the principle of relativity.

Richard Feynman - The Character of Physical Law - Part 3 The Great Conservation Principles

Lecture 4: Symmetry in Physical Law

In this lecture, Dr. Richard Feynman discusses symmetry in physical law. He covers translation in space, translation in time, rotation in space, the principle of relativity, symmetry in atomic particles, changes in scale, uniform angular speed, and reflection in space. He also discusses the relationship between conservation laws and symmetry, and concludes with a brief look at antimatter.

Richard Feynman - The Character of Physical Law - Part 4 Symmetry in Physical Law

Lecture 5: The Distinction of Past and Future

In this lecture, Dr. Richard Feynman discusses the linearity of time, and its irreversible nature. He discusses the related topics of order and disorder, equilibrium, and how these relate to phenomena in our universe.

Richard Feynman - The Character of Physical Law - Part 5 The Distinction of Past and Future

Lecture 6: Probability and Uncertainty - The Quantum Mechanical View of Nature

In this lecture, Dr. Richard Feynman discusses the peculiarities of physics at the quantum level. He uses the classic double-slit experiment to illustrate the odd behavior of electrons and photons, and what scientists have learned about the way the universe works at such a small scale.

Richard Feynman - The Character of Physical Law - Part 6 Probability and Uncertainty

Lecture 7: Seeking New Laws

In this lecture, Dr. Richard Feynman explores the process by which new laws of nature are discovered. He discusses the fundamental constituents of matter, and how scientists use various methods to attempt to discover new laws.

Richard Feynman - The Character of Physical Law - Part 7 Seeking New Laws

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