Crypto, Carbon, China, Ethics, Errors

Hard Problems In Cryptocurrency

Vitalik Buterin | 22nd November 2019

Of the 16 main technical and conceptual problems constraining blockchain development, four have been solved or almost solved in the past five years; there is some progress towards solving another eight; three are pretty intractable; and one — “proof of excellence” — has been abandoned as a dead end. The biggest unsolved problem is the “oracle problem”: If the blockchain needs to pull in new data from the outside world — for contracts or bets, for example — how can the system validate that data? (4,940 words)

Carbon Calculus

Kenneth Gillingham | IMF | 26th November 2019

There is good news, and there is bad news. We can halt greenhouse-gas emissions, but we cannot stomach the expense. “Is it possible to decarbonise deeply enough to come within striking distance of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050? Yes, it is feasible even today — the technologies exist. Yet such a vast transformation will be costly and challenging if attempted all at once, especially considering the large short-term costs of the transition for fossil-fuel-reliant developing nations” (2,330 words)

The Decline Of Hong Kong

Ian Johnson | New York Review Of Books | 26th November 2019

Hong Kong has been in relative economic and cultural decline since China regained control in 1997. What was then a global city of the future now feels “about as exciting as a Chinese provincial capital”. Hong Kong is “stuck in the 1980s”, its urban core still “filled with crumbling concrete housing blocks”. Its decline will only accelerate when the current protests subside, and China sets about punishing entire sections of Hong Kong society, using techniques of repression already practised in Xinjiang  (1,300 words)

Rewarding What Matters

Charles Foster | Practical Ethics | 23rd November 2019

A proposal for organising and funding ethical research in academia according to hierarchical principles. Tier One is for work furthering “the maintenance of the planet and of the human species”. Tier Two is for “matters to do with the kinds of creatures we are, and the survival of individuals”. Tier Three is for “the critical interests (other than mere survival) of the sorts of entities we have decided that we are”. Tiers Four and Five are for quality-of-life issues and for “fine-tuning considerations” (660 words)

Seeing Like A Finite State Machine

Henry Farrell | Crooked Timber | 25th November 2019

We fear that artificial intelligence will enable dictators to create totalitarian states that actually work well. But AI is more likely to undermine dictatorships by accelerating and amplifying their errors. “A plausible feedback loop would see bias leading to error leading to further bias, and no ready ways to correct it. This of course, will be likely to be reinforced by the ordinary politics of authoritarianism, and the typical reluctance to correct leaders, even when their policies are leading to disaster” (1,185 words)

Video: Visiting A British Pub. Burgess Meredith narrates a 1943 US Army film explaining pub etiquette for the benefit of American soldiers based in England (8m 35s)

Audio: Should We Ban Families? | Short And Curly. Philosophy for children. Carl, Molly and Matt re-read Plato’s Republic, and ask whether, in an ideal world, families would raise their own children (24m 54s)

“To be caught happy in a world of misery is the most despicable of crimes”
— Virginia Woolf

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