Previously, discussion of machine intelligence/consciousness has come at the issue from the perspective of an artificial being becoming intelligent/conscious. This piece by two professors at Peking University in Philosophy Now (UK) invokes the famous Ship of Theseus paradox (and the sorites paradox) to come at the issue from the other way: an intelligent being becoming a machine. As humans adopt more technological enhancements to their biology -- including neural enhancements, integrations, and even replacements -- at some point a human may become if not a machine at least more artificial than natural, which presumably would yield a conscious, intelligent artificial being. philosophynow.org/issues/155/Can_Machines_Be_Conscious
Teens interested in learning more about stock investing might want to check out the Top Trader Competition being offered by the University of Texas at Dallas Naveen Jindal School of Management this summer. Rising 9th-12th graders compete to maximize returns on $1M in virtual cash. The registration deadline is May 26; there's an early-bird discount until April 28. jindal.utdallas.edu/events/top-trader/
Although it's been widely reported that India will overtake China as the world's most populous country at some point this year, what has received less attention are the divergent trends in fertility rates within India: the birth rate in northern India is nearly twice that of southern India. In southern India, the total fertility rate is 1.8 children per woman, on a par with the U.S. and most of Europe. In northern India, the total fertility rate is about 3 children per woman, on a par with Namibia and Libya, among other countries. "Not only are southern [Indian] states providing women better access to contraceptives and family planning services, experts say, but they’re also affording women better educations, more jobs and higher relative social status — crucial, intangible factors that have led to smaller family sizes and greater prosperity. 'Demographically, we have two Indias,' said Arvind Subramanian, the Indian government’s chief economic adviser between 2014 and 2018. 'The India of the south already resembles East Asia. It’s actually in the early stages of aging. But the Hindi heartland is still very much booming.' ... The north-south gap in birthrates and overall development is stirring frequent debates about how to apportion federal spending and how to allocate seats in Parliament. It’s also sparked efforts by government leaders and development experts to provide enough jobs to the poor, northern states — and lift up women like Malika [a woman profiled in the story from the northern state of Bihar], who are left behind even as India’s surging economy looks destined to overtake Germany’s later this decade. ... According to the 2021 national family survey, 84 percent of Tamil Nadu women are now literate, compared with 55 percent in Bihar, the lowest in India. Forty-six percent of married women in Tamil Nadu were employed in the last 12 months, versus 19.2 percent of married Bihari women. ... Increasingly, India’s failure to close its north-south demographic and economic divide is leading to political consequences. In Bihar, the pressure on public-sector employment is so great that cuts to government job openings or in military recruitment often spark riots. Meanwhile, southern states such as Tamil Nadu, which is expecting to see its population decline sometime in the next decade, has seen an influx of northern migrant laborers, occasionally leading to friction."
This article from Politico analyzes the geography of gun-related deaths in the context of U.S. cultural geography. "The geography of gun violence — and public and elite ideas about how it should be addressed — is the result of differences at once regional, cultural and historical. Once you understand how the country was colonized — and by whom — a number of insights into the problem are revealed. ... The reason the U.S. has strong regional differences is because our swath of the North American continent was settled by rival colonial projects that had very little in common, often despised one another and spread without regard for today’s state boundaries. ... As expected, the disparities between the regions are stark, but even I was shocked at just how wide the differences were and also by some unexpected revelations." www.politico.com/news/magazine/2023/04/23/surprising-geography-of-gun-violence-00092413
Three years after the beginning of COVID shutdowns, the downtown areas of many major U.S. cities remain a shadow of their former selves. One way of measuring downtown life is looking at cellphone activity. This geo-graphic from Statista looks at research comparing cell phone activity in 2019 with that of Fall 2022 in select North American cities. Emptiest cities? San Francisco, Cleveland, and Portland. www.statista.com/chart/29722/cellphone-activity-in-north-american-downtowns (For full results, see downtownrecovery.com/dashboards/recovery_ranking.html.)
According to a law professor at the University of Dayton, growing epistemic pluralism – wide-ranging views on empirical facts – and disagreements over epistemic dependence – who constitutes a trusted source of information – are contributing to polarization in American political life.
"Without the government or an official church telling people what to think, we all have to decide for ourselves – and that inevitably leads to a diversity of moral viewpoints. ... [T]he same is true of beliefs about matters of fact. In the U.S., legal rules and social norms attempt to ensure that the state cannot constrain an individual’s freedom of belief, whether that be about moral values or empirical facts. This intellectual freedom contributes to epistemic pluralism. ... Another contributor to epistemic pluralism is just how specialized human knowledge has become. No one person could hope to acquire the sum total of all knowledge in a single lifetime. This brings us to the second relevant concept: epistemic dependence. Knowledge is almost never acquired firsthand, but transmitted by some trusted source. To take a simple example, how do you know who the first president of the United States was? No one alive today witnessed the first presidential inauguration. You could go to the National Archives and ask to see records, but hardly anyone does that. Instead, Americans learned from an elementary school teacher that George Washington was the first president, and we accept that fact because of the teacher’s epistemic authority. There’s nothing wrong with this; everyone gets most knowledge that way. There’s simply too much knowledge for anyone to verify independently all the facts on which we routinely rely. ... However, this raises a tricky problem: Who has sufficient epistemic authority to qualify as an expert on a particular topic? Much of the erosion of our shared reality in recent years seems to be driven by disagreement about whom to believe."
Which countries have the most extreme temperatures? This map shows countries (in red) with recorded high temperatures in excess of 48°C (or 118.4°F), countries (in blue) with recorded temperatures below -48°C (or -54.4°F), and countries (in black) that have experienced both extremes. moverdb.com/above-below-48/
Winter showers bring spring flowers. For those planning a field trip to southern California or Arizona soon, this article provides details on when and where to see the desert wildflowers that are expected to be blooming in abundance after the region's wet winter: www.nytimes.com/2023/04/01/travel/california-arizona-spring-wildflowers.html
California has had an enormous amount of rain and snow this winter, but Florida is experiencing a worsening drought, raising concerns about reduced agricultural output and wildfires in Florida this year. "About two-thirds of Florida is under moderate to extreme drought conditions, mainly in the central and southern parts of the state, according to the most recent weekly report by the U.S. Drought Monitor, a joint effort of academic and government institutions. ... Officials are particularly concerned about an area in southwestern Florida where Hurricane Ian struck last year and left heaps of forest debris on the ground that could fuel wildfires. Much of that area is now experiencing among the most intense drought conditions in the state." www.wsj.com/articles/deepening-florida-drought-hits-ranchers-growers-d4e9abb1
U.S. housing prices have shown a highly unusual bifurcated pattern this year: prices in every major metropolitan market west of Dallas (except San Antonio) have fallen while housing prices in every major metropolitan market east of Denver (except Austin) have risen. (Map from www.wsj.com/articles/home-prices-housing-market-trends-east-west-83c9eb56.)
If a large language model, like GPT-4, is trained on the writings of a famous philosopher, would you be able to have a conversation with that philosopher? Would that revolutionize philosophy? Or would it vitiate philosophy by inserting AI-generated extrapolations? Here's an "interview" with Rene Descartes, with answers generated by GPT-4: jimmyalfonsolicon.substack.com/p/interviews-with-gtp-philosophers
Where are people most interested in the metaverse? Based on Google searches of the term "metaverse" per 1,000 people, people in the Philippines show, by far, the most interest in the metaverse, followed by Granada, Peru, Barbados, Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia. (Map from CoinKickoff.com.) coinkickoff.com/wp-content/uploads/01_The-Meta-Verdict_World-Map.png
The National Archives has a great line-up of history-related events throughout the year, in person for those in the DC area and online. Later this month, for example, there's an author talk about Sarah Kidd, the wife of a pirate, a lunchtime series about challenges faced during the Eisenhower administration, a panel discussion about Black baseball players before Jackie Robinson, and a living history program with "Albert Einstein." www.archives.gov/calendar
Just 29 countries (shown in yellow) contribute more than half of the world's maternal deaths, newborn deaths, and stillbirths: reliefweb.int/map/world/map-2023-countries-un-humanitarian-appeals-contribute-global-maternal-deaths-newborn-death-and-stillbirths
The decimation of Russia's tech industry has accelerated since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, but the problem began years earlier, according to this piece from MIT Technology Review:
"According to [Russian] government figures, about 100,000 IT specialists left Russia in 2022, or some 10% of the tech workforce—a number that is likely an underestimate. ... In Russia, technology was one of the few sectors where people felt they could succeed on merit instead of connections. The industry also maintained a spirit of openness: Russian entrepreneurs won international funding and made deals all over the world. For a time, the Kremlin seemed to embrace this openness too, inviting international companies to invest in Russia. But cracks in Russia’s tech industry started appearing well before the war. For more than a decade, the government has attempted to put Russia’s internet and its most powerful tech companies in a tight grip, threatening an industry that once promised to bring the country into the future. ... Between 2015 and 2021, the IT sector in Russia was responsible for more than a third of the growth in the country’s GDP, reaching 3.7 trillion rubles ($47.8 billion) in 2021. ... VKontakte, often described as Russia’s Facebook, was 'de facto nationalized' after its founder, Pavel Durov, was squeezed out of the company in 2014 and Kremlin-aligned oligarchs assumed control, says [Ruben] Enikolopov [assistant professor at the Barcelona School of Economics]. After fleeing the country, Durov, who would later go on to create the messaging app Telegram, described Russia as “incompatible with Internet business.” ... After international sanctions were imposed on Russia following its annexation of Crimea in 2014, the Russian government started promoting the idea of its own sovereign internet, the RuNet. ... The country has worked to replace such popular international sites with domestic versions. To take the place of Google Play and the Apple AppStore, VK, together with the Ministry of Digital Development, launched a domestic app store called RuStore. TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube have homemade analogues such as Yappy, Rossgram, and RuTube."
The rise of humans has unfolded in a very specific niche of physical geography -- a "just right" combination of temperatures, precipitation, continental positions, atmospheric chemistry, and existing organisms. Could we take this show on the road even if we wanted to? This piece from Aeon argues that humans will not be able to live off Earth for sustained periods of time because of differences in the underlying physical geography, including biogeography..
"Given all our technological advances, it’s tempting to believe we are approaching an age of interplanetary colonisation. But can we really leave Earth and all our worries behind? No. ... What Earth-like means in astronomy textbooks and what it means to someone considering their survival prospects on a distant world are two vastly different things. We don’t just need a planet roughly the same size and temperature as Earth; we need a planet that spent billions of years evolving with us. We depend completely on the billions of other living organisms that make up Earth’s biosphere. Without them, we cannot survive. ... In fact, we would have been unable to survive on Earth for around 90 per cent of its history; the oxygen-rich atmosphere that we depend on is a recent feature of our planet. ... The only reason we find Earth habitable now is because of the vast and diverse biosphere that has for hundreds of millions of years evolved with and shaped our planet into the home we know today. ... We are complex lifeforms with complex needs. We are entirely dependent on other organisms for all our food and the very air we breathe. ... The only reason we find Earth habitable now is because of the vast and diverse biosphere that has for hundreds of millions of years evolved with and shaped our planet into the home we know today. Our continued survival depends on the continuation of Earth’s present state without any nasty bumps along the way. We are complex lifeforms with complex needs. We are entirely dependent on other organisms for all our food and the very air we breathe."
Candida auris is a fungus first discovered in Japan 15 years ago with a human mortality rate of up to 60%. Despite its murky origins -- the only nonhuman reservoir of the fungus has been found in India's remote Andaman Islands -- C. auris has become a global pathogen. This interactive map from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control tracks cases of C. auris: www.cdc.gov/fungal/candida-auris/tracking-c-auris.html
Today marks the 78th anniversary of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's execution by the Nazis. Bonhoeffer was a young German theologian and moral philosopher who, days after Adolf Hilter's 1933 installation as German chancellor, delivered a radio address warning Germans that the idolatrous worship of the Führer (leader) may instead be a cult of the Verführer (misleader, or seducer). Ten years later, from prison, Bonhoeffer penned a letter reflecting on lessons learned over the prior decade, noting that "memory, the recalling of lessons we have learnt, is also part of responsible living." Included in Bonhoeffer's 1943 "reckoning" is this famous passage:
"Folly is a more dangerous enemy to the good than evil. One can protest against evil; it can be unmasked and, if need be, prevented by force. Evil always carries the seeds of its own destruction, as it make people, at the least, uncomfortable. Against folly we have no defence. Neither protests nor force can touch it; reasoning is no use; facts that contradict personal prejudices can simply be disbelieved, they can just be pushed aside as trivial exceptions. So the fool, as distinct from the scoundrel, is completely self-satisfied; in fact, he can easily become dangerous, as it does not take much to make him aggressive. A fool must therefore be treated more cautiously than a scoundrel; we shall never again try to convince a fool by reason, for it is both useless and dangerous. ... If we look more closely, we see that any violent display of power, whether political or religious, produces an outburst of folly in a large part of mankind; indeed, this seems actually to be a psychological and sociological law: the power of some needs the folly of others. ... The fact that the fool is often stubborn must not mislead us into thinking that he is independent. One feels in fact, when talking to him, that one is dealing, not with the man himself, but with slogans, catchwords, and the like, which have taken hold of him. He is under a spell, he is blinded, his very nature is being misused and exploited. Having this become a passive instrument, the fool will be capable of any evil and at the same time incapable of seeing that it is evil."
from "After Ten Years: A Reckoning Made at New Year 1943," in Letters & Papers from Prison (ed. Eberhard Bethge)
Visit a marshmallow Peeps factory in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania: www.justborn.com/who-we-are/how-our-candy-is-made/
Landmines often persist long after a conflict ends. This map, based on data from an NGO that monitors landmines and operations to clear them, shows where landmines still exist, more than 25 years after a UN treaty that bans their use: cdn.statcdn.com/Infographic/images/normal/26209.jpeg
The Vulkan files are a collection of thousands of emails and other documents from 2016 to 2021 leaked by an anonymous whistleblower opposed to Russia's war in Ukraine that document Russian hacking and disinformation tactics, against domestic foes in Russia and around the world. This article from The Washington Post reflects a year's investigation of the documents: www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2023/03/30/russian-cyberwarfare-documents-vulkan-files/
Researchers are finding that honeybees collect, along with pollen and nectar, a huge range of information about an area's health. "As they navigate through their environment, microorganisms and other tiny particles can also cling to the bees’ fuzzy little bodies, which the pollinators then shed as they enter their hives. And since pollinators tend to forage within a mile radius of their hives in urban areas, there’s valuable information about a city or even a neighborhood in the honey they produce, on their bodies and in the debris that lies at the bottom of hives. ... The new research aims to establish a feasible method for collaborating with beekeepers and their colonies of honeybees for the purpose of studying the microbiome of cities." www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2023-03-30/honeybees-are-predictors-of-a-city-s-health-new-research-finds
Which are the most (and least) innovative states in 2023, as measured by 22 indicators of innovation friendliness -- from proportion of STEM jobs in the state's economy and entrepreneurialism to R&D spending and scores on 8th grade science and math exams? According to WalletHub, the most innovative states are Massachusetts, Washington, and Maryland. (The least innovative states? Mississippi, Louisiana, and North Dakota.) wallethub.com/edu/most-innovative-states/31890
What is "cognitive liberty"? This interview with Duke University professor Nita Farahany about her new book The Battle for Your Brain lays out her argument that what and how we think should be protected from brain-monitoring technology: www.wwno.org/npr-news/npr-news/2023-03-14/this-law-and-philosophy-professor-warns-neurotechnology-is-also-a-danger-to-privacy
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