Tag Archives: Paul Krugman

Paul Krugman talks SF

hal1

Autocorrecting your spreadsheet is bad enough, imagine HAL9000 in charge of autocorrecting your spreadsheet?

Paul Krugman, whose column I read at the NY Times, was recently in conversation with SF author Charlie Stross in Montreal.

It’s a unique discussion, not least because it involves a dismal scientist trying to bridge the gap with a fictional scientist.

There’s a lot of interesting questions raised, like why the rate of technological change hasn’t been able to match the predictions of SF classics like Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001, William Gibson’s Neuromancer, and Greg Bear’s Blood Music.

Says Krugman:

What you came out believing if you went to the New York’s World Fair in 1964 was that we were going to have this enormously enhanced mastery of the physical universe. That we were going to have undersea cities and supersonic transports everywhere.

And there hasn’t been that kind of dramatic change.

My favorite test, which shows something about me, is the kitchen.  If you walked into a kitchen from the 1950’s it would look a little pokey, but you’d know what to do. It wouldn’t be that difficult. If someone from the 1950’s walked into a kitchen from 1909 they’d be pretty unhappy – they might just be able to manage. If someone from 1909 went to one from 1859, you would actually be hopeless.

The big change was really between 1840 and the 1920’s, in terms of what the physical nature of modern life is like. There’s been nothing like that since.

And Stross on Genomics:

They have sequenced quite a few mammalian and other genomes and it’s getting cheaper all the time.

Craig Venter came up with an interesting project a couple of years ago to sequence the Pacific Ocean.  If you have a bucket of seawater, it contains probably on the order of a billion organisms most of which are viruses, probably single virus particles in that bucket from a number of species. It turns out when they did shotgun sequencing on a bucket of seawater 98% of the genes they discovered were hitherto unknown.  About 90% of those unknown genes were from viruses and we have no idea what the host organisms of them were…basically, viral soup.

There’s a lot of stuff we don’t know about how the genome works. It’s not, as was widely thought in the 50’s and 60’s, a blueprint. It’s more like a very very messy snapshot of a running computer program.

I wonder if they got a few floating genes from Moby-Dick in that bucket?  That would explain why the sequencing went haywire.

And on my favourite hobbyhorse, AI, augmented intelligence, and general crackpot conspiracies:

PK: We’ve gone for augmented intelligence, not artificial intelligence.

PK: And it’s the weirdest thing – by finding the eigenvector with the largest eigenvalue you end up in effect doing a computer meld of many peoples’ intelligence without knowing it.

CS: Actually, Amazon is very big on human intelligence emulating AI.  They have a system called the Mechanical Turk where they pay people piecework to do basic tasks and farm them out using the network and if you want to throw money at a problem, you can find a hundred thousand pairs of eyes to work on it if you can divide it up suitably.

PK: Whatever the algorithm that Amazon uses to make recommendations…

CS: That scares me.

Scares me too.  If you want to read on, here’s the full transcript.

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Krugman Strikes Again

Goldman_Sachs

Paul Krugman has got another great opinion piece in the NY Times about the GFC:

Goldman Sachs just reported record quarterly profits — and it’s preparing to hand out huge bonuses, comparable to what it was paying before the crisis.  What does this contrast tell us?

First, it tells us that Goldman is very good at what it does. Unfortunately, what it does is bad for America.

Second, it shows that Wall Street’s bad habits — above all, the system of compensation that helped cause the financial crisis — have not gone away.

Third, it shows that by rescuing the financial system without reforming it, Washington has done nothing to protect us from a new crisis, and, in fact, has made another crisis more likely.

Makes a hell’uv’a lot of sense to me.

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The Gift that Keeps on Taking

Ever since the subprime market collapsed in America things haven’t been looking so good for global markets.

Our current situation has come to be known as the GFC (Global Financial Crisis) which has to be a euphemism if ever I heard one.  What we are seeing is not a ‘crisis’.  Crisis is too specific a word: a plane crash is a crisis; a terrorist attack is a crisis.  A global collapse of capitalism is NOT a crisis…it’s a disaster of incalculable proportions.

So let’s have some linguistic clarity and call a spade a spade.  We are in a global depression.

I’m not an economist and I don’t pretend to understand the way these things work or unfold…but there’s two things floating around in cyberspace that have caught my attention and I want to point people towards.

Despite my lack of economic knowledge, I have been making a feeble attempt to try and at least understand what it was that caused the financial crash.

Veritable mountains have been written about this – including Kevin Rudd’s much discussed article in The Monthly – and yet there is no single, unified understanding of where and why it all went wrong.  We can accurately predict to millioneths of a second what happened after the Big Bang.  We can explore the deepest trenches of our earth’s great oceans.  We can map the synaptic pathways of the human brain (with some accuracy).  We can unlock the humane genome.  But we cannot make sense out of the intricacies of global capitalism.

That’s why my eyebrows almost rose up off my forehead when I read Paul Krugman’s recent opinion piece in the NY Times.

The more one looks into the origins of the current disaster, the clearer it becomes that the key wrong turn — the turn that made crisis inevitable — took place in the early 1980s, during the Reagan years.

Attacks on Reaganomics usually focus on rising inequality and fiscal irresponsibility. Indeed, Reagan ushered in an era in which a small minority grew vastly rich, while working families saw only meager gains. He also broke with longstanding rules of fiscal prudence.

On the latter point: traditionally, the U.S. government ran significant budget deficits only in times of war or economic emergency. Federal debt as a percentage of G.D.P. fell steadily from the end of World War II until 1980. But indebtedness began rising under Reagan; it fell again in the Clinton years, but resumed its rise under the Bush administration, leaving us ill prepared for the emergency now upon us.

The increase in public debt was, however, dwarfed by the rise in private debt, made possible by financial deregulation.

The change in America’s financial rules was Reagan’s biggest legacy.  And it’s the gift that keeps on taking. [my bold]

Perhaps it’s not rocket science – but it helped clear up my thinking a lot.  This global collapse was Reagan’s biggest legacy.  And it is a gift that keeps on taking.

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