The New Luxury

Of course, I’ve totally forgotten where these come from. Possibly a book called Silence in the Age of Noise by Erling Kagge.


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BREXIT Wildcards

A couple of things nobody seems to be thinking about. First, there have been calls for a second EU referendum for a while and the prospect seems more serious with the Labour Party perhaps backing the idea at, or before, the next election. The idea, and it’s a weak one in my view, is that people didn’t quite know what they were voting for last time or people were misled. Sounds just like any election I can remember. But what if there is a second vote and the result is leave again? Then what? The assumption seems to be that a second vote would result in a different result. Not necessarily.

My second wildcard thought is what happens if we have a financial meltdown before 31st October? Could this create an EU collapse before Britain has left the EU?

There’s a book called the Levelling by Michael O’Sullivan, an analyst at Credit Suisse, and in it he argues that globalisation has stopped, Economic growth is weak to non-existent and the next natural dip is long overdue in countries like the US and China. Central banks have accumulated too much power, QE is distorting markets, especially bonds, and is creating a generational divide too through asset price inflation, notably housing. The banking system is still under-regulated (shadow banking is hardly regulated at all) and the big tech companies are too dominant financially. World debt stands at 320% of GDP and risk is networked throughout the entire system. One tiny spark could ignite everything.

Where is this heading? A serious change of direction most probably. I think there’s a 50:50 chance of a global crash either next month (it’s generally October!) or spring 2020 and what will governments ,and the EU in particular, do in such a situation? They have no tools left to use, except, perhaps, for negative interest rates and taxation based upon wealth not just income and that would be explosive. You might create inflation to dilute the debt, but we’ve seen where that ends up.

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Idea of the Month

Spotted in a cafe in Nailsworth. Brilliant idea. What else could be twinned?

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Thoughts for the day

In Cambridge, again, yesterday for a workshop on autonomous flight. We somehow got onto autonomous vehicles on the ground and there was a comment from one participant that I think is worth sharing.

Essentially, it would be OK to hail an autonomous (self-driving) taxi/pod/whatever (with or without a driver/ attendant), but NOT OK if this were to contain another passenger in the back (someone they didn’t know). So, trust in an autonomous vehicle was 100%, but trust in an anonymous person was 0%. This was said by someone in their twenties and might be representative of generational attitudes towards trust. It could also be related to the various scandals surrounding Uber quite recently.

Reminds me of a comment by an elderly man who lived in a huge house in the middle of a vast estate He didn’t like walking in his own grounds, which were open to the public, because he might bump into someone that he hadn’t been introduced to.

The other thing that caught my attention yesterday, was a sign in the ‘window’ of Microsoft Research that said simply “Creating new realities”. Can you have more than one reality?
Is reality fixed? A mountain, for example, is there whether you want it to be or not. Or can you create new realities by overlaying virtual data, for instance?

My initial reaction was that there is only one authentic reality, but then I realised this was nonsense in a sense. How I perceive things will be different to how you perceive things but, more fundamentally, how a dog, or a bee, sees things is different to how humans see things. Butterflies, for instance, see using the ultra-violet wavelength. Humans see using the visible light spectrum (I think that’s correct, correct me if it’s not!).

Just because we see a flower as yellow, doesn’t necessarily mean the flower is yellow for other animals. And there’s smell of course, which can vary significantly between animals.

And this all relates to AI ethics…because what I think is ethical isn’t necessarily the same as what you think is ethical and differences can be magnified when you start dealing with countries and cultures. For instance, what China sees as ethical behaviour, for a drone or autonomous passenger vehicle, will be different to how the US sees it. And you thought Brexit was complicated.

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Thought for the Day

“I remember one morning when I discovered a cocoon in the back of a tree just as a butterfly was making a hole in its case and preparing to come out. I waited awhile, but it was too long appearing and I was impatient. I bent over it and breathed on it to warm it. I warmed it as quickly as I could and the miracle began to happen before my eyes, faster than life. The case opened; the butterfly started slowly crawling out, and I shall never forget my horror when I saw how its wings were folded back and crumpled; the wretched butterfly tried with its whole trembling body to unfold them. Bending over it, I tried to help it with my breath, in vain. It needed to be hatched out patiently and the unfolding of the wings should be a gradual process in the sun. Now it was too late. My breath had forced the butterfly to appear all crumpled, before its time. It struggled desperately and, a few seconds later, died in the palm of my hand. That little body is, I do believe, the greatest weight I have on my conscience. For I realize today that it is a mortal sin to violate the great laws of nature. We should not hurry, we should not be impatient, but we should confidently obey the eternal rhythm.” – Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba the Greek.

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Digital Emissions

We hear a lot about the environmental costs of air travel. Burning jet fuel currently contributes around 2.5% to total carbon emissions. Therefore, fly less or stop flying altogether we’re told. But what you don’t hear so much about is that Information Communication Technology (ICT) will be responsible for 3.5% of global emissions by 2020. A 2013 study suggested that the digital economy uses 10% of global electricity and this could double to 20% by 2025. The issue is data centres, but even an iPhone uses more power than a fridge. Tweet that.

PS – On a slightly related note, did you know that bitcoin mining consumes more power than Switzerland?

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Cars as Spaces

When we think of cars (or car sharing services or autonomous vehicles for that matter) we tend to think of people going from one place to another. Well hold your horsepower, this doesn’t seem to be quite the case, not in Japan at least.

Japanese car-sharing service Orix recently found that many of its customers were renting its cars but not driving them. Having reviewed mileage records it learned that a certain number of its cars were being returned after having “traveled no distance.” Times24, another automobile-sharing service in Japan with more than one million registered users, reported the same thing. So what were people doing with these cars?

Turns out one one user rented vehicles to have a nap. Another stored bags and other personal belongings when nearby coin lockers were full. Some used cars to charge phones, others as somewhere to have lunch. Other reasons included; working, watching TV, changing clothes and singing. (I know what all you people out there are thinking and I’m sure that happens as well, especally at night).

Source: Asahi Shimbun via The Edge and Alan. (thanks Alan)

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The Wisdom of Alan Watts

This was written in the early 1970s. Not bad eh? It’s from my favourire new website, brainpickings. Only two things worth reading online in my opinion, Brainpickings and Aeon. (OK, maybe The Edge, Slate, Quartz, Medium and Quartz too).

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OMG, I just finished a book

Not 100% true. It’s finished in the sense that I hit the required word count, very mechanical, but it still needs a very big polish. The image above is London, which I’m finding far more condusive to writing. Weirdly, less distractions. Or maybe it’s the right kind of distractions. I can go into the fray or withdraw from it. In the country it’s almost too quiet and the famous flying dog* can drive me nuts. I’m seriously thinking of taking a week off and going to Greece on my own to do the final edit.

* Maybe I didn’t mention this? He jumped out of an upstairs window a few weeks back. Maybe that’s another book? The Day the Dog Jumped Out of the Window.

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How to read the news

It asumes me no end how stupid some people can be. If someone is being hunted by the media and this picture appears wouldn’t you think to yourself that it looks a little staged? And the book? In LA! And why two cups? Where’s the other person?

That’s better. But she’s still not there.

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