Has Technology Peaked?

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A great deal of ink has been spilled trying to guess where technology is moving in the future. After decades of spectacular advances, many think this progress have peaked.

I don’t think they have, and those thoughts were supported in a recent article by Andy Kessler who follows technology for the Wall Street Journal. Here is how he begins:

Does history rhyme? A century ago, the ’20s boomed, driven by consumer spending on homes, cars, radios and newfangled appliances like refrigerators, sewing machines and vacuum cleaners. Most Americans couldn’t afford the upfront cost of a lot of these goods, so manufacturers and retailers invented installment plans. Debt ruled as 75% of cars, furniture and washing machines were bought on credit.

So what’s next? My fundamental rule for finding growth trends is that you need to see viable technologies today, and then predict which ones will get cheaper and better over time. Microprocessors, storage, bandwidth—all still going strong after half a century.

The fundamental building block of the 2020s will be artificial intelligence, particularly machine learning. Better to ask what it won’t change this decade. The artificial neural networks that made face and voice recognition viable were the low-hanging fruit. Now chips tailor-made for machine learning are increasing speed and cutting costs. A recent Stanford report suggests that the power behind the most advanced AI computations is doubling nearly every three months, outpacing Moore’s Law by a factor of six.

Want more? You can read the full article here

Military-Civilian Friction

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In the midst of the current conflict with Iran, our attention often falls on the commander-in-chief and the general officers who work for him.

There have been more retired military officers working in key positions in the current administration than in recent memory.

Many wonder why that is, as well as how it is contributing to the security and prosperity of our nation. That’s why I was drawn to a recent book review, “Military Delusions.” Here is how Eliot Cohen’s review of Peter Bergen’s book begins:

Luckily, no one makes us read a book that covers all of our bad moments in the dental chair — the tut-tutting about a cracked tooth, the anesthetic-charged needle sliding into soft tissue, the high-pitched whine of the drill, the grating sound of enamel being ground away, the bleeding gum, the anodyne assurance that there are only four more visits left before the restoration is complete. Unfortunately, Peter Bergen has decided to have his readers relive the Trump foreign and national security policy equivalent in this account of the first three years of the current administration.

There it all is — the spectacular flameouts, from semitragic former generals ending up in court to harlequins flitting through White House corridors; the kooky theories of “The Fourth Turning,” which informed Stephen Bannon’s understanding of American history; the impulsive hires of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the national security adviser H. R. McMaster, and their humiliating tweet-singed send-offs; the jumped-up mediocrities incapable of writing a memo and the multimillionaires on the make with schemes to outsource the Afghan war; the birther conspiracy theories about Barack Obama; Kellyanne Conway’s invocation of the Bowling Green massacre and alternative facts; the constant expletive-laden discourse in which major American foreign policy decisions were conceptualized by the president as variations on the Anglo-Saxon monosyllable for sexual intercourse; the contempt for human rights, loyalty to allies and fidelity to covenants. And all this before the Ukrainian quid pro quo.

You can read the full article here

Are Things Getting Better…Or?

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The turning of the year is a time when most of us pause to reflect. For many, part of that assessment is wondering whether our world is getting better or worse.

There are many reasons for feeling that we are moving in the wrong direction: war, climate change, homelessness and other issues. The list of bad things is often overwhelming.

That is why, every year, I am uplifted by Nicholas Kristof’s article assessing the year. Here is how he begins:

If you’re depressed by the state of the world, let me toss out an idea: In the long arc of human history, 2019 has been the best year ever.

The bad things that you fret about are true. But it’s also true that since modern humans emerged about 200,000 years ago, 2019 was probably the year in which children were least likely to die, adults were least likely to be illiterate and people were least likely to suffer excruciating and disfiguring diseases.

Every single day in recent years, another 325,000 people got their first access to electricity. Each day, more than 200,000 got piped water for the first time. And some 650,000 went online for the first time, every single day.

Perhaps the greatest calamity for anyone is to lose a child. That used to be common: Historically, almost half of all humans died in childhood. As recently as 1950, 27 percent of all children still died by age 15. Now that figure has dropped to about 4 percent.

“If you were given the opportunity to choose the time you were born in, it’d be pretty risky to choose a time in any of the thousands of generations in the past,” noted Max Roser, an Oxford University economist who runs the Our World in Data website. “Almost everyone lived in poverty, hunger was widespread and famines common.”

But … but … but President Trump! But climate change! War in Yemen! Starvation in Venezuela! Risk of nuclear war with North Korea. …

All those are important concerns, and that’s why I write about them regularly. Yet I fear that the news media and the humanitarian world focus so relentlessly on the bad news that we leave the public believing that every trend is going in the wrong direction. A majority of Americans say in polls that the share of the world population living in poverty is increasing — yet one of the trends of the last 50 years has been a huge reduction in global poverty.

Want more? You can read the rest of the piece here

Tech Idols?

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Who do we look up to? Movie stars? Maybe? Sports figures? Sure?

But when we think about it, those people seen different, not like us, possessing special skills.

How about technology industry leaders? Aren’t they just average Joes who were tinkering around in their garages and got lucky?

We can identify with them, so we tend to make them, so we make them our idols.

But that is changing. That’s why I was drawn to a piece, “Twilight of the Tech Idols.” Here is how it begins:

The banking industry, which has consistently been one of the wealthiest industries for the last few centuries, has very few leaders one would call “heroes” or “idols.” Most of them are part of a group of men who fought and finessed their way to the top by being good at corporate politics and managing other bankers.

Silicon Valley, in stark contrast, was built on the myth of the visionary heroic geek. A succession of Tech Heroes — from Steve Jobs at Apple and Bill Gates at Microsoft through Larry Page and Sergey Brin at Google to Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook — embodied the American dream. They were regular guys and middle-class youngsters (several of them from immigrant families), whose new technology changed the world and made them extremely wealthy.

The Tech Heroes also made for fabulous media stories. As their businesses grew, they got breathless press coverage as they promised to “disrupt” one industry or another. It nearly got to the point where if a Google founder sneezed, an article could quickly follow: “Will Google Reinvent the Sneeze?” Critics warned of troubles and monopolies ahead, but their voices were outnumbered and drowned out by the cheerleaders.

Want more? You can read the rest of the piece here

Future News

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Occasionally, it’s worth looking back to see how people thought things would turn out.

Years ago I read a piece, “Novelists Predict Future With Eerie Accuracy.”

Fast forward: Were they right? See for yourself. Here is part of the article

The dirty little secret of speculative fiction is that it’s hard to go wrong predicting that things will get worse. But while avoiding the nihilism of novels like Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road,” in which a father and son wander a hopeless post-apocalyptic moonscape, a number of recent books foresee futures that seem more than plausible as the nation’s ambient level of weirdness rises.

Albert Brooks, the actor and director, brought out “2030,” in which the nation’s economy is sent into a spin by seemingly good news: cancer is cured. The bad-news twist: the resulting drain on national resources by an aging population that no longer conforms to the actuarial tables and continues to consume resources at baby-boomer rates, and a rather literal twist on the notion of intergenerational warfare. “I chose not to go too far,” Mr. Brooks said. “I liked having more present in my future.”

In “Ready Player One,” the novelist Ernest Cline extrapolates from the ripples that rising energy prices and climate change send through the economy, and gives us a future where the suburbs die off and many people are packed into in high-rise urban trailer parks, spending their days on an increasingly addictive Internet instead of facing the quotidian squalor. Readers who spend so much time issuing updates via Twitter, Facebook and Google+ that they have forgotten what their spouses look like might see themselves reflected in Mr. Cline’s funhouse mirror. “I did try to envision it as a possible future,” Mr. Cline said. “I don’t see it as a future we’re necessarily headed for.”

Want to know what’s ahead – keep reading!

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Where the Troops Are

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The American troop pullback in Syria has dominated news headlines for the past several weeks. Lost in the news reporting – until now – has been where else U.S. troops are stationed overseas.

As part of its reporting, the New York Times provided these statistics, showing that the United States has 200,000 American service members serving overseas. Here is where:

  • Afghanistan: 13,000
  • Syria: 200
  • Iraq: 6,000
  • Saudi Arabian and other Persian Gulf nations: 65,000
  • Africa: 7,000
  • Japan: 50,000
  • South Korea: 28,000
  • NATO Nations: 35,000
  • Elsewhere: 2,000

This worldwide footprint requires substantial support from the continental United States, where an endless stream of supplies is moved forward to support these troops.

You can read the full article here

Capitalism = Good?

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Many people are conflicted regarding capitalism. We associate the word with “big business.” And while most agree that capitalism has delivered many benefits, sparking world-changing events such as the industrial and computer revolutions, capitalism’s dark side – a single-minded focus on increasing shareholder value – is increasingly revealed in the media.

That’s why it was so refreshing to read a proposal for a “New Capitalism” by Marc Benioff, Chairman of Salesforce, one of the world’s leading tech companies. Here’s how he began:

Capitalism, I acknowledge, has been good to me.

Over the past 20 years, the company that I co-founded, Salesforce, has generated billions in profits and made me a very wealthy person. I have been fortunate to live a life beyond the wildest imaginations of my great-grandfather, who immigrated to San Francisco from Kiev in the late 1800s.

Yet, as a capitalist, I believe it’s time to say out loud what we all know to be true: Capitalism, as we know it, is dead.

Yes, free markets — and societies that cherish scientific research and innovation — have pioneered new industries, discovered cures that have saved millions from disease and unleashed prosperity that has lifted billions of people out of poverty. On a personal level, the success that I’ve achieved has allowed me to embrace philanthropy and invest in improving local public schools and reducing homelessness in the San Francisco Bay Area, advancing children’s health care and protecting our oceans.

But capitalism as it has been practiced in recent decades — with its obsession on maximizing profits for shareholders — has also led to horrifying inequality. Globally, the 26 richest people in the world now have as much wealth as the poorest 3.8 billion people, and the relentless spewing of carbon emissions is pushing the planet toward catastrophic climate change. In the United States, income inequality has reached its highest level in at least 50 years, with the top 0.1 percent — people like me — owning roughly 20 percent of the wealth while many Americans cannot afford to pay for a $400 emergency. It’s no wonder that support for capitalism has dropped, especially among young people.

To my fellow business leaders and billionaires, I say that we can no longer wash our hands of our responsibility for what people do with our products. Yes, profits are important, but so is society. And if our quest for greater profits leaves our world worse off than before, all we will have taught our children is the power of greed.

It’s time for a new capitalism — a more fair, equal and sustainable capitalism that actually works for everyone and where businesses, including tech companies, don’t just take from society but truly give back and have a positive impact.

Want more? You can read the rest of the piece here

Ten Characters

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Most would agree that years after you read a novel, it’s not the plot that sticks with you, it’s the characters.

I’ve always been a plot-driven writer, so I recognize that I need to work on my characterization a bit harder than most.

That’s why I was drawn to Alberto Manguel’s piece, “In Art and Words, a Book Lover Honors the Characters He Can’t Forget.”

He has a pithy description of ten characters we all remember from great novels. Here is the first:

DRACULA

Apostle of blood, lord of night, invader of sleep — Count Dracula cannot die. He returns again and again, aided by Anne Rice and Stephenie Meyer. In our bleak age, Dracula has become a necessary monster.

Want more about the other nine? You can read the rest of the piece here

Hong Kong Under Siege

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Many were shocked by the brutal way that authorities put down – and are still putting down – the protests in Hong Kong.

But many others were not. Li Yuan is one of them. Here is how he began his recent piece, “One Country, No Arguments.”

Hong Kong’s protests have disrupted Yang Yang’s family life. Though the 29-year-old lives in mainland China, he was inspired by the demonstrations to write a song about freedom and upload it to the internet. When censors deleted it, he complained to his family.

They weren’t sympathetic. “How can you support Hong Kong separatists?” they asked. “How can you be anti-China?” His mother threatened to disown him. Before Mr. Yang left on a trip to Japan in August, his father said he hoped his son would die there.

Hong Kong’s protests have inflamed tensions in the semiautonomous Chinese city, but passions in the mainland have been just as heated — and, seemingly, almost exclusively against the demonstrators.

A pro-protest tweet by a Houston Rockets executive, Daryl Morey, ignited a firestorm of anger against the N.B.A., demonstrating the depth of feeling. Joe Tsai, the only N.B.A. owner of Chinese descent, said all of China — yes, more than one billion people — felt the same way.

“The one thing that is terribly misunderstood, and often ignored, by the western press and those critical of China is that 1.4 billion Chinese citizens stand united when it comes to the territorial integrity of China and the country’s sovereignty over her homeland,” he wrote. “This issue is non-negotiable.”

For Westerners, this is strange language. You don’t hear about the common feelings of 300 million Americans or 60 million Brits, especially in the era of Donald Trump and Brexit.

Yet, in China, there is some truth to it. Of course, it’s a vast country brimming with opinions. But the Communist Party has spent decades preparing the Chinese people for a moment like this. The stir over Hong Kong shows, in dramatic fashion, how successful it has been, and how the world could be shaped by it.

Want more? You can read the full article here

Rich…Pity?

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If the college admissions scandal has done anything, it has reminded us that there are two Americas that of the richest of the rich – and the rest of us.

The extent to which the super-rich have gone to get their offspring admitted to the most prestigious universities is, indeed, mind-boggling.

That’s why I was drawn to Richard Reeves op-ed, “Now the Rich Want Your Pity Too.” The author explains how the rich can’t stop at being rich, they need to work hard to be the richest, camp out to be at the front of the line to get their kids into the premier nursery school, and cheat to get them into the best colleges.

And then they complain that they have to work hellish hours to do all this “goodness.” Reeves has some suggestions – for all of us:

I have some better — and cheaper — ideas to improve the lives of the rich. If you are spending thousands of dollars and thousands of hours cultivating your children to get them into the most selective institutions: Just stop. Your kids will be just fine attending a good public university. And everyone’s life will be more relaxed in the meantime.

If you are a professional working yourself sick in order to make a big salary: Just stop. Nobody is forcing you to work such long hours. Maybe you will only be rich, as opposed to superrich. But you’ll be O.K.

If you are a homeowner with a huge mortgage that you took on in order to live in the very best neighborhood: Just stop. There is no law that says you have to live in the most expensive ZIP code you can afford.

Because, you see, nobody is making you do these stressful, expensive things. It is not a trap. It is a choice. If you don’t want to be stressed out, stop making decisions that will stress you out. It is probably true that rich Americans are making decisions about their lives and their children’s lives that are resulting in more stress and more spending — and so more stress. But it is also true that they could be making different choices. They are not powerless.

Want more? You can read the full article here