Polanyi’s Paradox: Will humans maintain any advantage over machines?

Robots and Jobs

This essay originally appeared on Philosophical Disquisitions.

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There is no denying that improvements in technology allow machines to perform tasks that were once performed best by humans. This is at the heart of the technological displacement we see throughout the economy. The key question going forward is whether humans will maintain an advantage in any cognitive or physical activity. The answer to this question will determine whether the future of the economy is one in which humans continue to play a relevant part, or one in which humans are left behind.

To help us answer this question it is worth considering the paradoxes of technological improvement. It is truly amazing that advances in artificial intelligence have allowed machines to beat humans at cognitive games like chess or Jeopardy!, or that cars can now be driven around complex environments without human assistance. At the same time, it is strange that other physical and cognitive skills have been less easy for machines to master, e.g.… Read the rest

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At site of world’s worst nuclear disaster, the animals have returned

This photograph shows wild boar in a former village near the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant.

This photograph shows wild boar in a former village near the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant.

Cell Press via EurekAlert:

In 1986, after a fire and explosion at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant released radioactive particles into the air, thousands of people left the area, never to return. Now, researchers reporting in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on October 5 have found that the Chernobyl site looks less like a disaster zone and more like a nature preserve, teeming with elk, roe deer, red deer, wild boar, and wolves.

The findings are a reminder of the resilience of wildlife. They may also hold important lessons for understanding the potential long-term impact of the more recent Fukushima disaster in Japan.

“It’s very likely that wildlife numbers at Chernobyl are much higher than they were before the accident,” says Jim Smith of the University of Portsmouth in the UK. “This doesn’t mean radiation is good for wildlife, just that the effects of human habitation, including hunting, farming, and forestry, are a lot worse.”

Earlier studies in the 4,200 km2 Chernobyl Exclusion Zone showed major radiation effects and pronounced reductions in wildlife populations.

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The Uncensored Story of LA Artist/Occultist Marjorie Cameron

Many a disinfonaut knows the story of rocket scientist/occultist Jack Parsons, but have you heard of Marjorie Cameron, his wife and Kenneth Anger’s notorious “Scarlet Woman”? The New York Observer reports on a retrospective art exhibit focusing on Cameron’s work (if you’re in NYC, it runs until October 17th):

On Thursday night, a remembrance of sorts was held inside 76 Grand Street, the legendary former outpost, now reclaimed, of art dealer Jeffrey Deitch.

Close friends of occultist, artist, and iconic Los Angeles figure Marjorie Cameron gathered to share memories of the “Scarlet Woman” who starred in Kenneth Anger films and was married to rocket scientist Jack Parsons, amid a small but historic first East Coast survey of her artwork. The occasion for the panel on the woman and her work was a re-staging of the Los Angles Museum of Contemporary Art survey, or at least a portion of it, at the dealer’s Grand Street space.

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How Sacred Science Addresses What Modern Physics Ignores

Tom Bunzel via Collective Evolution:

In a recent attempt to understand how conventional physics “explains” reality, I began to read Lawrence Krauss’ A Universe from Nothing

Krauss is one of those famous scientists like Richard Dawkins who doesn’t find anything strange about the fact that existence IS.

Instead he takes EVERYTHING for granted and attacks, like Dawkins and Bill Maher, the low hanging fruit of organized religion and its dogmatic, unproven Gods created in our image.

When I tried reading his book I got a bit frustrated and then checked the index for the word “consciousness,” and when I did not find it, I put the book aside.

The question really is – “what” exactly is “nothing.”

First and foremost it is a concept.  Nothing does not exist.  What exists is, well, everything.

Nothing is the word or placeholder we use for null – similar to zero in math – but in both cases (words and math) they are human abstractions or interpretations of Nature. 

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Phishing for Phools: Free Market Realities

An advertisement for Rolls-Royce from the late 1950s

An advertisement for Rolls-Royce from the late 1950s

Cass R. Sunstein via New York Review of Books:

Phishing for Phools: The Economics of Manipulation and Deception
by George A. Akerlof and Robert J. Shiller
Princeton University Press, 272 pp., $24.95

Very few economists foresaw the great recession of 2008–2009. Why not? Economists have long assumed that human beings are “rational,” but behavioral findings about human fallibility have put a lot of pressure on that assumption. People tend to be overconfident; they display unrealistic optimism; they often deal poorly with risks; they neglect the long term (“present bias”); and they dislike losses a lot more than they like equivalent gains (“loss aversion”). And until recent years, most economists have not had much to say about the problem of inequality, which seems to be getting worse.

There is a strong argument that within the economics profession, these problems are closely linked, and that they have had unfortunate effects on public policy.

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Scientists Asked the Stoners: What Type of Pot Helps You Sleep Better?

marijuana 2

Agata Blaszczak Boxe via Braindecoder:

People use various tricks to deal with sleep problems — some like to have a cup of chamomile tea before bed, while others count sheep or rewatch Planet Earth.

And then there are those who claim the best way to get quality Zzz’s is to smoke some pot.

Managing sleep issues is indeed one if the most commonly cited reasons for the use of medical marijuana, research has shown. But while pot may help promote sleep in some insomniacs, the extent of this potential benefit and the exact mechanisms involved are not clear.

What’s more, various types of marijuana may have different effects on sleep. To understand this better, in a new study, researchers look at the types of medical marijuana that people prefer to use for sleep problems like insomnia and nightmares. After recruiting 163 adults who purchased medical marijuana at a California dispensary, the researchers looked specifically at whether the people were using sativa, indica, or hybrid strains of pot.

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Nunavut’s Suicide Crisis

Better Than Television
Laura Eggertson writes at CBC News:

On May 18, 2013, after responding to the suicide of a 13-year-old girl in Pangnirtung, Nunavut’s chief coroner pleaded for help from the territory’s minister of health and senior bureaucrats.

“It is time to declare a state of emergency,” Padma Suramala wrote in an email sent to Health Minister Keith Peterson, Justice Minister Daniel Shewchuk and others. After working for 13 months straight, and dealing with nine suicides in the previous month, and five that month alone, the coroner described herself as devastated and disheartened.

Before she wrote the email, she spent a sleepless night agonizing over what brought a 13-year-old to the decision to die “before even experiencing her life.”

“We have reached a breaking point and our community is under crisis,” Suramala wrote in the email, obtained through an access to information request. “I leave it in your best hands to make the decision of calling [a] state of emergency … and bring awareness of available resources to Nunavummiut.”

Nothing happened.

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Are Alzheimer’s and Diabetes the Same Disease?

There’s a compelling link between obesity and Alzheimer’s disease, reports New Scientist:

Having type 2 diabetes may mean you are already on the path to Alzheimer’s. This startling claim comes from a study linking the two diseases more intimately than ever before. There is some good news: the same research also offers a way to reverse memory problems associated with diabetes – albeit in rats – which may hint at a new treatment for Alzheimer’s.

 More details This image shows a PiB-PET scan of a patient with Alzheimer's disease on the left and an elderly person with normal memory on the right. Areas of red and yellow show high concentrations of PiB in the brain and suggest high amounts of amyloid deposits in these areas. Credit: Klunkwe (CC)

This image shows a PiB-PET scan of a patient with Alzheimer’s disease on the left and an elderly person with normal memory on the right. Areas of red and yellow show high concentrations of PiB in the brain and suggest high amounts of amyloid deposits in these areas. Credit: Klunkwe (CC)


“Perhaps you should use Alzheimer’s drugs at the diabetes stage to prevent cognitive impairment in the first place,” says Ewan McNay from the University at Albany in New York.

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