This article from MIT Technology Review profiles Hikvision, "the world's biggest surveillance company you've never heard of," and why the U.S. Department of Treasury may be adding it to a very small list of companies everyone, everywhere, is banned from doing business with. Cameras from this Chinese company are currently used in at least 4.8 million networks in 191 countries outside of China, from baby monitors and grocery stores to state-run surveillance systems. www.technologyreview.com/2022/06/22/1054586/hikvision-worlds-biggest-surveillance-company
India has more linguistic diversity than all of Europe put together: recent research shows at least 780 languages are spoken across India. This article highlights the work being done to document these languages and the political dimension of doing so while India's Hindu-nationalist BJP government is trying to make Hindi the country's national language. www.nytimes.com/2022/06/11/world/asia/india-languages-ganesh-devy.html
This is one of several compelling graphics from a recent report in The Economist (UK) about slavery in the U.S. prior to the Civil War. (Map from www.economist.com/interactive/graphic-detail/2022/06/18/slave-trade-family-separation.)
Reuters (UK) is reporting that Amazon is working on technology that would allow Alexa to mimic anyone's voice based on an audio sample of a minute or less. This technology is being pitched as a way to capture loved one's voices but, like deep-fake videos, raises epistemological issues ("what do we actually know when our usual sensory input can be deceived?") as well as privacy issues concerning ownership of our images and voices. www.reuters.com/technology/amazon-has-plan-make-alexa-mimic-anyones-voice-2022-06-22
World Refugee Day was earlier this week. Although Ukrainian refugees -- now numbering 5.2 million -- have dominated the news this year, this map from Statista is a reminder that Ukrainians are just a fraction of the world's refugees: www.statista.com/chart/18436/total-number-of-refugees-by-origin-country
When lives are on the line, who should be making decisions: artificial intelligence, with its lightning-fast ability to weigh options, or humans? This question is ever-less theoretical, with AI being built into health care systems, criminal justice systems, and, increasingly, weapons systems. The Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), for example, recently launched its "In the Moment" program, designed to develop defense technology that pairs AI with expert systems to "build trusted algorithmic decision-makers for mission-critical Department of Defense (DoD) operations." www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2022/03/29/darpa-artificial-intelligence-battlefield-medical-decisions/ (Quote from www.darpa.mil/news-events/2022-03-03.)
This article from Geographical (UK) profiles the world's 10 fastest-growing cities -- chances are you've heard of relatively few of them -- and looks at new additions to the list of the world's megacities (population 10M+): geographical.co.uk/culture/the-fastest-growing-cities?
Because I teach science fiction too, I always encourage my philosophy students to consider the darker applications of philosophical thought experiments -- like the brain in the vat -- as well. This proposed alternative to capital punishment is a bold, if creepy, application of philosophy's brain in the vat.
"Many people born into liberal democracies find corporal or capital punishment distasteful. We live in an age which says there are only three humane, acceptable ways to punish someone: give them a fine, force them to do “community service,” or lock them up. But why do we need to accept such a small, restrictive range of options? Perhaps, as Christopher Belshaw argues in the Journal of Controversial Ideas, it’s time to consider some radical alternatives. To punish someone is to do them harm, and sometimes, great harm indeed. As Belshaw writes, it’s to “harm them in such a way that they understand harm is being done in return for what, at least allegedly, they did.” Justice assumes some kind of connection between a crime and the punishment, or between the victim and the criminal. This makes punishment, in the main, retributive — a kind of payback for a wrong that someone has committed. ... Belshaw’s article hinges on the idea that the prison system is not fit for purpose. First, there’s the question of whether prison actually harms a criminal in the way we want. In some cases, it might succeed only in “rendering them for a period inoperative.” ... Second, and on the other hand, a bad prison sentence might cause more harm than is strictly proportional. A convict might suffer unforeseen abuse at the hands of guards or other inmates. ... Third, and especially concerning decades-long sentences, there’s a question about who prison is punishing. ... When we punish an old, memory-addled person convicted 40 years previously, are we really punishing the same person? ... Well, one option is to put criminals into a deep and reversible coma. One of the biggest problems with capital punishment is that it is irreversible. So long as there’s even a single case of a mistaken conviction, wrongfully killing someone is an egregious miscarriage of justice. But what if the criminal could always be brought back to consciousness? ... Putting someone in a coma essentially “freezes” a person’s identity. They wake up with much the same mental life as they did when they went into a coma. As such, it avoids the issues of punishing a changing person, decades later. A convict will wake up, years off their life, but can still appreciate the connection between the punishment and the crime they committed.But the biggest advantage a reversible coma has over prison, is that it’s standardized form of punishment. It’s a clear measurement of harm (i.e. a denial of x amount of years from your life) and is not open to the variables of greater and lesser harm in a prison environment. Essentially, putting prisoners in a coma establishes “years of life” as an acceptable and measurable payment for a wrong done. ... Even if you find the idea of induced comas as unspeakably horrible, Belshaw does at least leave us with a good question. Why do we assume that only one kind of punishment is the best? With science, technology, and societal values moving on all the time, might it be time to reconsider and re-examine how we ensure justice?"
Russian President Vladimir Putin recently compared himself to Czar Peter the Great, who waged war against neighbors to "reclaim" Russian lands. This map from Statista compares the borders of Russia today with the borders of the Russian empire at the beginning of WWI: cdn.statcdn.com/Infographic/images/normal/27605.jpeg
It's a prominent landmark on any U.S. map, but Utah's Great Salt Lake has already shrunk by two-thirds due to extended drought, booming population, and regional water usage policies. This article from The New York Times profiles a catastrophe-in-the-making as the Great Salt Lake continues to shrink, with arsenic dust filling the air, snowfall in nearby ski areas declining, and the lake's brine shrimp, a critical food source for 10 million migratory birds, dying off:
"The stakes are alarmingly high, according to Timothy D. Hawkes, a Republican lawmaker who wants more aggressive action. Otherwise, he said, the Great Salt Lake risks the same fate as California’s Owens Lake, which went dry decades ago, producing the worst levels of dust pollution in the United States and helping to turn the nearby community into a veritable ghost town. 'It’s not just fear-mongering,' he said of the lake vanishing. 'It can actually happen.'"
Beginning tomorrow, the University of Oxford (UK) is hosting a free, weeklong, online festival of practical ethics. For the full line-up or to register, see www.practicalethics.ox.ac.uk/festival (If attending, don't forget to account for the timezone change.)
After nearly six years of gathering and preparing content, every day, for this ad-free blog, I have decided to take a break. I expect that I will still post when I come across particularly interesting tidbits about geography, philosophy, world affairs, and outside-the-box learning, but this will no longer be a daily blog. Thank you to all who have accompanied me on this intellectual journey to date! (Pic from recent trip.)
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