Is time real?

A pretty good (admittedly brief) look at two views of time:

  • Presentism: there’s nothing but the eternal now. Here, the past and the future are only present in our minds.
  • Eternalism: The past, present, and future aren’t the makings of our conscious mind. They’re as real as the dimensions of space. ‘Now’ is to time, as ‘here’ is to space.

Alas, they both make sense to me.

Could blockchain fix broken Internet?

A day doesn’t pass that I don’t see half a dozen articles about some new use for distributed ledger technology (Blockchain). Some interesting ideas in a short piece from Fortune:

“If we were to design the Internet all over again, it’s a good bet we wouldn’t build what we have today: A giant advertising oligopoly where consumers trade privacy for free services, and which is so insecure that hackers and criminals run wild.”

One idea for ‘fixing’ the Internet comes from a company called Blockstack:

“Blockstack is building a new type of Internet browser using the distributed ledger software known as blockchain. The idea is that people will no longer have to supply log-in information to the likes of Facebook and Google to interact with others on the web. Instead, they’ll keep control of their identity by using blockchain’s authentication features.”

Will demand for oil plummet?

It would be like a game of Risk that’s been going on for three days and your three-year-old comes in and gleefully turns the board over. [CNBC]

RethinkX co-founder and Stanford University economist and professor Tony Seba told CNBC’s Street Signs that the rise of self-drive cars will see oil demand plummet, the price of oil drop to $25 a barrel, and oil producers left without the political or financial capital they have today.

“He says we are not going to stop driving altogether, just switch to self-drive electric vehicles, which will become a much larger part of the sharing economy. And these electric vehicles are going to cost less to both buy and run. […] There will be no more petrol or diesel cars, buses and trucks sold anywhere in the world within 8 years. Which also means no more car dealers by 2024.”

“China wants to get electric, plug-in hybrids and fuel cell cars to account for 20 per cent of all auto sales by 2025, while India aims to electrify all vehicles in the country by 2032.”

Older people and technology

“By 2050, 22% of Americans will be 65 and older, according to U.S. Census Bureau projections. […] Around four-in-ten (42%) adults ages 65 and older now report owning smartphones, up from just 18% in 2013. Internet use and home broadband adoption among this group have also risen substantially. Today, 67% of seniors use the internet – a 55-percentage-point increase in just under two decades. And for the first time, half of older Americans now have broadband at home. […] Smartphone ownership among seniors whose annual household income is $75,000 or more increased by 39 percentage points since 2013 – 15 points higher than the growth reported among seniors overall.”

World Economic Forum »

When every conversation is recorded

You might have seen a story about an embarrassing recording from 2016:

“There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump,” McCarthy (R-Calif.) said, according to a recording of the June 15, 2016, exchange, which was listened to and verified by The Washington Post.

I don’t care much about the exchange but I would like to know more about how the recording was made. Surreptitiously, one would think. Perhaps a smartphone in a jacket or shirt pocket? Doesn’t sound like the sort of gab-fest reporters would be invited to so it was one of The Boys. Did he know something embarrassing would be discussed? Did he record every such discussion… just in case? And if one guy is doing this, doesn’t it follow others would as well? Every question spawns three more.

Are there meetings where the Alpha Dog demands everyone put their phones in a basket which is placed in another room? Does everyone get a pat-down?

I started the recording app on my iPhone and put it in my pocket (mic up), to see what kind of audio quality I could get. Not bad. Good enough to end a career.

Let’s say I turn on a small jamming device that prevents recording within a 10 foot radius. Could someone on the other side of the room capture so

Neuralink and the Brain’s Magical Future

When I share something here, I try to include a paragraph or two to give the reader a sense of what the piece is about and some feel for what I thought was interesting/important. It’s difficult to know what to excerpt with this… I don’t even know what to call it… “explainer” by Tim Urban. At 38,000 words it is the longest thing I’ve ever read on the Internet (not counting books). He explains the brain. Where it’s been and where it might be going. That I was able to read such a long piece is a testament to a) the subject matter and b) his writing style. I said I wasn’t going to include any excerpts but here’s a couple:

“Die Progress Unit (DPU) – How many years one would need to go into the future that the ensuing shock from the level of progress would kill you.”

“Putting our technology into our brains isn’t about whether it’s good or bad to become cyborgs. It’s that we are cyborgs and we will continue to be cyborgs—so it probably makes sense to upgrade ourselves from primitive, low-bandwidth cyborgs to modern, high-bandwidth cyborgs.”

How self-driving cars could change real estate

Driverless cars could become a reality in five years, and will profoundly affect real estate within eight or nine years. A few possibilities:

  • Roughly 15 to 20% of your living space constructed in the average home is devoted to the garage
  • Each urban area will have a hub, but it won’t be in the expensive part of town — it will be in the cheaper part of town, right off the freeway
  • Fewer parking lots. In 2016, in the D.C. area, commercial underground parking garages added 10-12% to the cost of office construction. In residences, each additional parking space increased the cost of development per unit by 25%. Driverless cars could make these parking lots a relic of the past
  • There are 125,000 gas stations in the United States in prime real estate, you won’t need those anymore

Rise of the Robolawyers

From an excellent piece in The Atlantic by Jason Koebler:

In the past year, more than 10 major law firms have “hired” Ross, a robotic attorney powered in part by IBM’s Watson artificial intelligence, to perform legal research. Ross is designed to approximate the experience of working with a human lawyer: It can understand questions asked in normal English and provide specific, analytic answers.

Beyond helping prepare cases, AI could also predict how they’ll hold up in court. Lex Machina, a company owned by LexisNexis, offers what it calls “moneyball lawyering.” It applies natural-language processing to millions of court decisions to find trends that can be used to a law firm’s advantage. For instance, the software can determine which judges tend to favor plaintiffs, summarize the legal strategies of opposing lawyers based on their case histories, and determine the arguments most likely to convince specific judges. A Miami-based company called Premonition goes one step further and promises to predict the winner of a case before it even goes to court, based on statistical analyses of verdicts in similar cases.

A Silicon Valley startup called Legalist offers “commercial litigation financing,” meaning it will pay a lawsuit’s fees and expenses if its algorithm determines that you have a good chance of winning, in exchange for a portion of any judgment in your favor.

A company called Clause is creating “intelligent contracts” that can detect when a set of prearranged conditions are met (or broken). Though Clause deals primarily with industrial clients, other companies could soon bring the technology to consumers. For example, if you agree with your landlord to keep the temperature in your house between 68 and 72 degrees and you crank the thermostat to 74, an intelligent contract might automatically deduct a penalty from your bank account.