Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Living with the Exponential - I

Before the middle of this century, the growth rates of our technology— which will be indistinguishable from ourselves— will be so steep as to appear essentially vertical. From a strictly mathematical perspective, the growth rates will still be finite but so extreme that the changes they bring about will appear to rupture the fabric of human history. That, at least, will be the perspective of unenhanced biological humanity.
Kurzweil, Ray. The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology, September 26, 2006  

Massive debt is sealing the fate of governments and central banks.   As the cards collapse, radical developments in diverse areas of technology, combined with free market entrepreneurship, will destroy and rebuild the existing social order.
Smith, George Ford. The Fall of Tyranny, the Rise of LibertyJanuary 21, 2017 

My purpose in "Living with the Exponential" series is to get our thinking oriented to the supercharged future that awaits us.  One sample of this future has already arrived when it was reported a month ago that AlphaGo Zero defeated AlphaGo in the game of Go, 100 games to none.  A few months earlier AlphaGo had topped the best human player.  Unlike AlphaGo, AlphaGo Zero taught itself to play Go.

In 2011, IBM's Watson computer defeated the two best Jeopardy! players.  Watson has since gone to medical school to assist doctors in their diagnoses.

Chess programs that run on desktop computers or even smartphones routinely beat human grandmasters.

The tech industry has spawned billionaires by selling to the masses.  Tech titans aim to eliminate disease itself, including aging

But the radical future isn't limited to digits, as we're seeing with Brexit and Catalonia.  

The world is changing fast, and it will change much faster in the years ahead.  Let's try to stay on top of it.


Gene Editing

“We cut your DNA, open it up, insert a gene, stitch it back up. Invisible mending,” said Dr. Sandy Macrae, president of Sangamo Therapeutics, the California company testing this for two metabolic diseases and hemophilia. “It becomes part of your DNA and is there for the rest of your life.”

It’s like sending a mini surgeon along to place the new gene in exactly the right location.

The experiment was done Monday in California on 44-year-old Brian Madeux. Through an IV, he received billions of copies of a corrective gene and a genetic tool to cut his DNA in a precise spot.

Signs of whether it’s working may come in a month; tests will show for sure in three months.

See AP Exclusive: US scientists try 1st gene editing in the body  (11-15-2017)

Surgical Training using Virtual Reality (VR)

We wiil need to double the number of surgeons by 2030 to meet the needs of the developing world.

Dr. Shafi Ahmed wants to train them simultaneously using VR.

"Ahmed made a splash back in 2014 when he reached 14,000 surgeons across 100 different countries by using Google Glass to stream a surgical training session. In 2016, Ahmed took this a step further by live-streaming a cancer surgery in virtual reality that was shot in 360-degree video while he removed a colon tumor from a patient."

He also streamed Twitter's first live operation.

Ahmed: “Forget one-to-one. My idea is one to many. I want to share knowledge with the masses.”

See Virtual Reality Is Reshaping Medical Training and Treatment (11-12-2017)

Treating babies born with jaundice

About 60 percent of babies are born with jaundice—a yellow tint to the skin and whites of the eyes.

The color is a sign that the baby’s blood has too much bilirubin—a byproduct of the body replacing old red blood cells.

The liver normally flushes bilirubin out of the body, but a newborns’ organ often can’t get the job done efficiently.

Newborns being treated for jaundice must often lie naked under therapeutic blue light for hours at a time.

New light-emitting pajamas could give parents a more comfortable, portable option for their babies. 

See Light-Up Pajamas to Treat Babies With Jaundice  (11-8-2017)

Reversing Aging

A team led by Dr. Dongsheng Cai from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine pinpointed a critical source of aging to a small group of stem cells within the hypothalamus.

Like fountains of youth, these stem cells release tiny fatty bubbles filled with mixtures of small biological molecules called microRNAs. With age, these cells die out, and the animal’s muscle, skin and brain function declines.

However, when the team transplanted these stem cells from young animals into a middle-aged one, they slowed aging. 

In a groundbreaking paper published in 2013, Cai found that a molecule called NF-kappaB increased in the hypothalamus as an animal grew older. Zap out NF-kappaB activity in mice, and they showed much fewer age-related symptoms as they grew older.

The animals also better preserved their muscle strength, skin thickness, bone and tendon integrity.

See Breakthrough Stem Cell Study Offers New Clues to Reversing Aging  (8-6-2017)

Artificial Intelligence

Ray Kurzweil: 

[When] a girl in Africa buys a smartphone for $75, it counts as $75 of economic activity, despite the fact that it's literally a trillion dollars of computation circa 1960, a billion dollars circa 1980. It's got millions of dollars in free information apps, just one of which is an encyclopedia far better than the one I saved up for years as a teenager to buy. All that counts for zero in economic activity because it's free. So we really don't count the value of these products.

Technology is always going to be a double-edged sword. Fire kept us warm, cooked our food, and burned down our houses. . .   It's only continued progress particularly in AI that's going to enable us to continue overcoming poverty and disease and environmental degradation while we attend to the peril.

I'm a believer that the Turing Test is a valid test of the full range of human intelligence. . .  I've been consistent in saying 2029 [will be the year an AI passes the Turing Test].

See Ray Kurzweil on Turning Tests, Brain Extenders, and AI Ethics  (11-13-2017)

Integrated Circuits

Most wearable electronic devices that are currently available rely on rigid electronic components mounted on plastic, rubber or textiles. These have limited compatibility with the skin, are damaged when washed, and are uncomfortable to wear because they are not breathable.

University of Cambridge researchers have developed a process that is scalable and according to the researchers, there are no fundamental obstacles to the technological development of wearable electronic devices — both in terms of their complexity and performance.

The printed components are flexible, washable, and require low power — essential requirements for applications in wearable electronics.

The technology is being commercialized by Cambridge Enterprise, the University’s commercialization arm.

See Integrated circuits printed directly onto fabric for the first time  (11-10-2017)


The United States was founded upon the concept of secession. Not once, but twice. First, in 1783, when colonies seceded from the British Empire. Second, in 1788, when states seceded from the United States. 

Within eight years of the ratification of the U.S. Constitution, the first secession movement arose.

It flared up, again, in 1800 when Jefferson was elected the third President of the United States.

And, again, in 1803 when President Jefferson purchased the Louisiana Territory from Napoleon.

New England States would seek secession from the United States again in 1811 over the admission of the State of Louisiana into the Union, and again in 1814-1815 over “Mr. Madison’s War.”

In the 1850s, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland, called “the middle states”, represented 40 percent of the U.S. economy. A powerful secessionist movement arose in these states calling for them to form a separate country.

When the seven “Deep South” states seceded in 1860-61, many Northern newspapers upheld their legal right to secede and advocated a peaceful separation.

Secessionist movements continue in the United States to this day.

See Secession is as American as apple pie  (11-6-2017)

Thursday, November 9, 2017

When will free markets emerge?

If someone asked you to define “free market,” could you?  Could you do it on the spot without recourse to dictionaries or other crutches?

There’s an old tale about the origin of the term “laissez-faire” that gets to my point.  Here’s the write-up in Wikipedia:
The term laissez faire likely originated in a meeting that took place around 1681 between powerful French Comptroller-General of Finances Jean-Baptiste Colbert and a group of French businessmen headed by M. Le Gendre. When the eager mercantilist minister asked how the French state could be of service to the merchants and help promote their commerce, Le Gendre replied simply "Laissez-nous faire" ("Leave it to us" or "Let us do [it]," the French verb not having to take an object).
Given the meeting with a known mercantilist, Le Gendre probably intended his comment in a restrictive sense, meaning he was refusing the state’s offer of protection from foreign competition.  In later years others have expanded “laissez-faire” to mean the state should be restricted to “upholding the rights of private property and individual liberty.”  In Human Action, Mises defined a laissez-faire economy as one unhampered by state interference; it means upholding “the individuals' discretion to choose and to act.” [Mises, The Meaning of Laissez Faire, excerpted from Human Action]

Most libertarians would agree with this broader interpretation.  The problem is any state that actually took a hands-off policy towards the economy wouldn’t be a state.  States are, by design, predatory and parasitical.  They exist for the purpose of accruing power and pelf.  Libertarian visions of domesticating the state are fantasies.  

Besides which, states work for certain people — they enable politicians to buy votes and other support needed to keep the racket going.  As for voters, who needs freedom when you can get free handouts?  Though citizens gripe about taxes and corrupt politicians, they’ve grown comfortable with the devil they’ve always known.  They’re okay with the state’s willingness to assume responsibilities they refuse to accept.  They want the state to pave their roads and educate their kids.  They want the state to pay for their health care.  They want the state to pay for the safety nets of life.  Who better to do the paying than the state, which will never run out of money?  Even a failed state like socialist Venezuela has yet to flatline because of its grip on power and propaganda, even as its people descend into cannibalism and prostitution for survival.

Where did states come from?

In Common Sense, Thomas Paine, in writing about the “race of kings,” far from having an honorary origin, considered the first of them “nothing better than the principal ruffian of some restless gang” whose purpose was to plunder the defenseless.  Eventually, as Murray Rothbard tells us, the gangs realized the “time-span of plunder would be longer and more secure, and the situation more pleasant if the conquered tribe were allowed to live and produce, with the conquerors settling among them as rulers exacting a steady annual tribute.”

If a conquered people is the garden from which we expect free markets to grow we’re deluding ourselves.  As painful experience has taught us, attempting to bind a state to the terms of a constitution is another exercise in folly.  States have allies, none more important than the opinion makers, the intellectuals.  Intellectuals, in return for “a secure and permanent berth in the State apparatus,” as Rothbard notes, will provide the needed rationale for the state’s predations.  Thus, to pick examples at random, we have “court historians” and others providing the necessary cover for the blood-bath known as World War I, a famous Keynesian telling us the debt explosion of World War II ended the Great Depression, a “political cross section of prominent economists” expressing their opposition to the Paul-Grayson Audit the Fed bill (seven of the eight of whom have Fed connections), and the wholesale lying that characterizes national elections. 

Most states, being parasites, have learned to park their depredations somewhere between freedom and despotism.  Paine recognized this when he wrote,
The portion of liberty enjoyed in England, is just enough to enslave a country more productively than by despotism; and that as the real object of all despotism is revenue, a government so formed obtains more than it could do either by direct despotism, or in a full state of freedom, and is therefore, on the ground of interest, opposed to both.  [Rights of Man]
In a “full state of freedom” there would be no government “so formed.”

In 1939 Albert Jay Nock published an essay expressing astonishment at the surprised reaction of “all our institutional voices” over the barbarism and betrayals of various foreign States.  As he put it,
The history of the State being what it is, and its testimony being as invariable and eloquent as it is, I am obliged to say that the naive tone of surprise wherewith our people complain of these matters strikes me as a pretty sad reflection on their intelligence. Suppose someone were impolite enough to ask them the gruff question, "Well, what do you expect?" — what rational answer could they give? I know of none. 
Polite or impolite, that is just the question which ought to be put every time a story of State villainy appears in the news. It ought to be thrown at our public day after day, from every newspaper, periodical, lecture platform, and radio station in the land; and it ought to be backed up by a simple appeal to history, a simple invitation to look at the record.... 
Also, in order to keep down the great American sin of self-righteousness, every public presentation ought to draw the deadly parallel with the record of the American State. The German State is persecuting a minority, just as the American State did after 1776; the Italian State breaks into Ethiopia, just as the American State broke into Mexico; the Japanese State kills off the Manchurian tribes in wholesale lots, just as the American State did the Indian tribes; the British State practices large-scale carpetbaggery, like the American State after 1864; the imperialist French State massacres native civilians on their own soil, as the American State did in pursuit of its imperialistic policies in the Pacific, and so on. 
The headlines from Nock’s day to ours — to say nothing of previous history — suggests he’s been overwhelmingly ignored.  States are not mankind’s benefactors.  With nuclear technology at their command they could end up turning the planet over to the insects.

How do we End the State?

There are few voices calling for an end to the state — a reflection of its propaganda prowess — but this doesn’t mean our future is bleak.  On the contrary, most people will see major improvements in their lives in the coming years.  

There are two unmistakable trends working in liberty’s favor: Massive government debt and exponentially advancing technology.   You won’t have confidence in this claim unless you read the essay at the link, Ray Kurzweil’s seminal The Law of Accelerating Returns.  It would also help to have an understanding of the acronym TANSTAAFL as well as a grasp of monetary fundamentals.

As I wrote in an earlier essay,
Technology is ripping a hole in centralized social control and its Keynesian underpinnings, bringing power and freedom to individuals the world over.  
Both Keynesianism and technology are on a cusp. One is on a road to collapse, while the other is about to kick into high gear. . . .
[With a fiscal gap in excess of $200 trillion,] government promises will be broken. The bill for the Keynesian free lunch will come due, and the government check will bounce. 
Where will that leave us? With a weakened and discredited government, and the bogus Keynesian ideas that supported it, we will have to become more self-reliant. The cry of “Do something!” to the government will be answered with an echo. Free markets will emerge where they’ve been suppressed because much of government will be ineffective or no longer exist. A free market in combination with a revolution in technology will remake our world. [The Fall of Tyranny, the Rise of Liberty]
We need to do with the state what we’ve done with slavery.  We can govern ourselves without a coercive sovereign.  Truly free markets will emerge when the state is gone.  

The State Unmasked

“So things aren't quite adding up the way they used to, huh? Some of your myths are a little shaky these days.” “My myths ? They're...