The UN's annual COP climate conference gets underway in Dubai today. This map looks at where fossil fuel use for generating electricity is growing and shrinking around the world. (Map from www.nytimes.com/interactive/2023/11/20/climate/global-power-electricity-fossil-fuels-coal.html. More country-specific charts in the article.)
In light of last weekend's Dutch election that brought Geert Wilders's right-wing, anti-immigrant Party for Freedom to power, it seemed useful to share this piece from Foreign Affairs earlier this year by Georgetown international affairs professor Charles King. King walks readers through an ascendant new political conservatism that is no longer rooted in expanding individual liberty -- reflected in Barry Goldwater's argument in 1960, "The Conservative looks upon politics as the art of achieving the maximum amount of freedom for individuals that is consistent with the maintenance of the social order" -- but is instead a weaving together "of religion, personal morality, national culture, and public policy" that considers the Enlightenment a "wrong turn" in governing principles. www.foreignaffairs.com/reviews/antiliberal-revolution
South Africa has the world's largest known chrome reserves, but this has not been a uniform blessing for the country. This article from Geographical (UK) looks at the impact of illegal chrome mining -- which by some estimates accounts for 10% of all production -- on communities in the chrome belt in the northwestern part of the country. geographical.co.uk/science-environment/witrandjie-south-africa-villaged-ravaged-for-chrome
With December right around the corner, this map looks at how the new El Niño cycle is expected to impact weather across the U.S. from December through February: arstechnica.com/science/2023/10/were-entering-a-pretty-strong-el-nino-heres-what-that-means-for-a-us-winter/
Previously in this space, I have mentioned Silicon Valley's embrace of "effective altruism" -- a particular, and somewhat extreme, variant of utilitarianism that featured prominently in the recent trial of crypto entrepreneur Sam Bankman-Fried -- but recently the buzz in Silicon Valley has been about Marc Andreessen's "techno-optimist manifesto." A co-founder of the early web browser Netscape, Andreessen has spent the last couple of decades as one of Silicon Valley's biggest venture capital players. His newest manifesto has been described as a mash-up of Nietzsche, libertarianism, and social Darwinism with a sprinkling of nuclear-powered science fiction. It advocates for turning up the accelerator on technological development -- to wit, "We believe in accelerationism – the conscious and deliberate propulsion of technological development.... We believe Artificial Intelligence is our alchemy, our Philosopher’s Stone – we are literally making sand think. ... We believe any deceleration of AI will cost lives. Deaths that were preventable by the AI that was prevented from existing is a form of murder. ... We believe the global population can quite easily expand to 50 billion people or more, and then far beyond that as we ultimately settle other planets. ... We believe in adventure. Undertaking the Hero’s Journey, rebelling against the status quo, mapping uncharted territory, conquering dragons, and bringing home the spoils for our community. ... Victim mentality is a curse in every domain of life, including in our relationship with technology – both unnecessary and self-defeating. We are not victims, we are conquerors." It concludes with a list of the enemies of techno-optimists, which specifically includes those who espouse "tech ethics." 👀 You can find the entire manifesto, and sundry critiques of it, online.
The drone battles in Ukraine are highlighting a sophisticated, real-time military contest over the electromagnetic spectrum. "A battle is raging in Ukraine in the invisible realm of electromagnetic waves, with radio signals being used to overwhelm communication links to drones and troops, locate targets and trick guided weapons. Known as electronic warfare, the tactics have turned into a cat-and-mouse game between Russia and Ukraine, quietly driving momentum swings in the 21-month old conflict and forcing engineers to adapt. 'Electronic warfare has impacted the fighting in Ukraine as much as weather and terrain,' said Bryan Clark, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, a think tank in Washington, adding that every operation in the conflict now has to take into account enemy moves in the electromagnetic spectrum. ... The techniques have turned the war into a proxy laboratory that the United States, Europe and China have followed closely for what may sway a future conflict, experts said." www.nytimes.com/2023/11/19/technology/russia-ukraine-electronic-warfare-drone-signals.html
For a generative AI to respond to a question requires computing power, which requires cooling, which, at present, requires water. A lot of it: an estimated liter of water for every 10-100 questions a generative AI answers. Microsoft and Google both reported their water use in 2022 increased by at least 20%. This article from the Associated Press highlights Iowa's role in the development of GPT-4: apnews.com/article/chatgpt-gpt4-iowa-ai-water-consumption-microsoft-f551fde98083d17a7e8d904f8be822c4
The life expectancy of Americans varies significantly based on where they live, as this map, based on pre-pandemic average life expectancies, shows. (Map and an interesting discussion of the cultural and political dynamics that underlie it at www.politico.com/news/magazine/2023/09/01/america-life-expectancy-regions-00113369.)
According to this article from MIT Technology Review, philosopher David Chalmers, famous for the "hard problem" of identifying the essence of consciousness, gives artificial intelligence better than one chance in five of developing consciousness in the next 10 years. "AI consciousness isn’t just a devilishly tricky intellectual puzzle; it’s a morally weighty problem with potentially dire consequences. Fail to identify a conscious AI, and you might unintentionally subjugate, or even torture, a being whose interests ought to matter. Mistake an unconscious AI for a conscious one, and you risk compromising human safety and happiness for the sake of an unthinking, unfeeling hunk of silicon and code. Both mistakes are easy to make. ... The cerebellum, a brain region at the base of the skull that resembles a fist-size tangle of angel-hair pasta, appears to play no role in conscious experience, though it is crucial for subconscious motor tasks like riding a bike; on the other hand, feedback connections—for example, connections running from the “higher,” cognitive regions of the brain to those involved in more basic sensory processing—seem essential to consciousness. (This, by the way, is one good reason to doubt the consciousness of LLMs: they lack substantial feedback connections.) ... Every expert has a preferred theory of consciousness, but none treats it as ideology—all of them are eternally alert to the possibility that they have backed the wrong horse. In the past five years, consciousness scientists have started working together on a series of “adversarial collaborations,” in which supporters of different theories come together to design neuroscience experiments that could help test them against each other. The researchers agree ahead of time on which patterns of results will support which theory. Then they run the experiments and see what happens. ... In effect, this strategy recognizes that the major theories of consciousness have some chance of turning out to be true—and so if more theories agree that an AI is conscious, it is more likely to actually be conscious. By the same token, a system that lacks all those markers can only be conscious if our current theories are very wrong."
Redevelopment in Mumbai is replacing some of the megacity's first housing, the "chawls," cheap tenement housing that has long served as an affordable entry point for new arrivals in the city. "The development of Mumbai’s chawls tells a story whose outline is common to many megacities. The buildings sprang up during the British Raj, a time when new urban jobs were luring people in their thousands away from the countryside for work in textiles or as dockworkers in one of the busiest ports in Britain’s global empire. The growth of chawls can be thought of almost as synonymous with the expansion of the city. Before Bombay became a key harbor for trade and the British navy, the region was inhabited by small fishing communities. This transformation was powered partly by events in North America, as textile manufacturing boomed when the US Civil War cut off transatlantic cotton exports to Europe.This boom fueled a desperate need for cheap housing, and chawls were a common answer. Typically built around a central courtyard, the chawls grouped rooms around a corridor, divided into either single or double room units, with bathrooms usually shared between the residents of each floor. This arrangement would perhaps have been ample with one or two workers per unit. In practice, this was never how they were used in India, where multiple generations — uncles, aunts, grandparents and cousins — shared space. ... Yet the chawls still offered (and continue to offer) benefits. Their density and grouping around courtyards — which still today continue to be the focus of activities like community sports, religious festivals and weddings — helped to generate camaraderie and community spirit between households. For low-income families in an expensive city, they offer a semblance of a safety net that the state doesn’t provide. The solidarity they generate is especially helpful for those needing help with child-care or in creating opportunities to socialize for older residents." www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2023-11-01/mumbai-chawl-tenements-helped-build-the-megacity-but-they-are-under-threat
Teachers Pay Teachers has a bunch of free Thanksgiving-themed logic puzzles and other activities: www.teacherspayteachers.com/browse?order=Price-Asc&search=thanksgiving%20logic%20puzzles%20free
This map highlights deep-sea mining rights, which are emerging as a new frontier in geopolitical contestation over rare-earth metals. The Clarion-Clipperton Zone between Mexico and Hawaii, for example, is believed to contain up to 6x the cobalt and 3x the nickel of all land-based deposits. (Map from www.washingtonpost.com/world/interactive/2023/china-deep-sea-mining-military-renewable-energy/.)
It is assumed the Russian government will try to use the fighting between Israel and Hamas as a wedge issue in European countries, like France, that have large Jewish and Muslim populations in order to promote domestic turmoil in those countries and erode their support for Ukraine. The recent appearance of hundreds of spray-painted Stars of David, along with pro-Palestine slogans, is one concrete example currently being investigated by French police: www.al-monitor.com/originals/2023/11/france-investigates-suspected-russian-role-star-david-graffiti-paris
This article from Geographical (UK) explores the physical and cultural geography of China: geographical.co.uk/culture/geo-explainer-the-many-chinas
South Florida has long been home to nonnative species. In recent years, the black and white tegu, an Argentinian lizard the size of a dog, has established an invasive population, numbering in the thousands, in South Florida and spread north throughout Florida (see map from the University of Florida) and into Georgia and South Carolina as well as establishing a separate feral population in Texas. The tegu was once popular in the pet trade but is now illegal to own in Florida, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Louisiana, Texas, Kansas, Nebraska, Minnesota, Kentucky, and Hawaii; permits and/or microchipping are required in several other states. Tegus are omnivores, particularly fond of eggs, and can live up to 20 years; the tegu is more cold tolerant than most lizards, and a female can lay up to 35 eggs annually. edis.ifas.ufl.edu/image/Iyywnm3tt6/screen
As a word, "lying" encapsulates a huge range of behaviors across a variety of mediums. This article from a professor of philosophy at Wake Forest examines factors that influence the telling of lies, with implications for monitoring our own behavior as well as being cognizant of when we should be most likely to question the truthfulness of others.
"An emerging body of empirical research is trying to answer these questions, and some of the findings are surprising. They hold lessons, too - for how to think about the areas of your life where you might be more prone to tell lies, and also about where to be most cautious in trusting what others are saying. ... Out of 1,000 American participants, 59.9% claimed not to have told a single lie in the past 24 hours. Of those who admitted they did lie, most said they’d told very few lies. Participants reported 1,646 lies in total, but half of them came from just 5.3% of the participants. This general pattern in the data has been replicated several times. Lying tends to be rare, except in the case of a small group of frequent liars. ... [I]t might be surprising to find that, say, lying on video chat was more common than lying face-to-face, with lying on email being least likely. A couple of factors could be playing a role. Recordability seems to rein in the lies – perhaps knowing that the communication leaves a record raises worries about detection and makes lying less appealing. Synchronicity seems to matter too. Many lies occur in the heat of the moment, so it makes sense that when there’s a delay in communication, as with email, lying would decrease. ... When it comes to honesty, though, I find the results, in general, promising. Lying seems to happen rarely for many people, even toward strangers and even via social media and texting. Where people need to be especially discerning, though, is in identifying – and avoiding – the small number of rampant liars out there. If you’re one of them yourself, maybe you never realized that you’re actually in a small minority."
Even if you've never heard of the autonomous New Zealand territory of Tokelau, you've probably gotten spam from a Tokelau email address. This article from MIT Technology Review looks at the combination of opportunism, unanticipated consequences, and "digital colonialism" that made .tk the go-to domain for cybercriminals and other shady operators around the world. www.technologyreview.com/2023/11/02/1082798/tiny-pacific-island-global-capital-cybercrime/
The Baltimore Museum of Industry is again sponsoring the Maryland Engineering Challenges with various competitions for students in 1st-12th grades. Those interested in participating should waste no time in looking at this year's choices, deadlines, and upcoming coach training workshops: www.thebmi.org/visit/plan-your-school-group-experience/maryland-engineering-challenges/
Europe is heading into its second winter without Russian gas. This map shows the expansion of LNG (liquified natural gas) terminals across Europe:
Content developers are figuring out how to “poison” generative AI models that scrape their content from the internet without permission. This article from MIT Technology Review, for example, discusses a software program artists can run their images through before uploading them to the web. The software embeds invisible pixels in the images that act as a poison pill, causing AI tools that “digest” them to malfunction. The developer “admits there is a risk that people might abuse the data poisoning technique for malicious uses. However, he says attackers would need thousands of poisoned samples to inflict real damage on larger, more powerful models, as they are trained on billions of data samples. ‘We don’t yet know of robust defenses against these attacks. We haven’t yet seen poisoning attacks on modern [machine learning] models in the wild, but it could be just a matter of time,’ says Vitaly Shmatikov, a professor at Cornell University who studies AI model security and was not involved in the research.”
The northern Japanese island of Hokkaido is home to both black bears and bigger, more assertive brown bears known as Ussuri bears. With declining birthrates and more people moving to cities, rural areas of Hokkaido are increasingly sparsely populated, and with fewer people, bears are moving in. To deter bears from coming into populated areas, the community of Takikawa is supplementing fencing and dogs with giant robot wolves. geographical.co.uk/news/robot-wolf-keeps-bears-away
This topological map looks at the growth of home schooling in the U.S. since the 2017-18 school year. Because quite a few states do not require any notification from or oversight of home schoolers, no data is available for some states. (Map from www.washingtonpost.com/education/interactive/2023/homeschooling-growth-data-by-district/.)
Last summer Princeton bioethicist Peter Singer was part of a commission tasked with defining the border between life and death. The goal was revising state legislative standards dating back to 1980. Ultimately, the effort broke down. In this opinion piece, Singer gives his own answer to this issue, which hinges not on heartbeat or brain death but on the irreversible loss of consciousness: www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2023/10/17/brain-death-transplant-heartbeat-law/
Because bitcoin mining consumes a huge amount of electricity, it has tended to be concentrated where electricity can be had cheaply. This article from The Wall Street Journal looks at how bitcoin mining is being pitched to natural gas producers in Texas as a way of supplementing their income, which has fallen along with natural gas prices: www.wsj.com/business/energy-oil/in-texas-bitcoin-springs-from-gas-wells-47e5e2b6
This quiz contains several questions about lesser-known aspects of North America that, if you get them wrong, might make for a fun learning diversion: play.howstuffworks.com/quiz/can-you-pass-this-difficult-north-american-geography-quiz (The quiz also contains at least one mistake. Let me know if you spot it.)
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