A few things that caught my attention over the last week or so. Some of them appear pretty wild even for 21st century standards, but I guess that’s just the new normal. Enjoy!
Large-scale experimentation on the human population without consent is probably not a good idea. As Joshua Foust points out (highlights mine):
Not nearly enough tech people (or researchers studying tech!) are willing to admit that the last ten years of reckless and non-consensual experimentation on people for their little gadgets have done profound harm to people and that we will look back on this period the way we now view Victorian ingestion of arsenic or health sanitoriums. The lack of care or concern is astounding, constantly.
Important note: This was on the occasion of a (benign) research project that “provided mental health support to about 4,000 people using GPT-3”, which initially sounded like there participants had no knowledge of chatting with a bot. The founder/researcher since clarified that everyone did know and did consent.
The comparison to the Victorian age rings very true. So, so much of what we see today will look wild when future generations look back at them. Think large-scale, non-consensual experiments; think our complete failure to address climate change by sticking to the worst types of energy and transportation. It’s not like we don’t have the data and other evidence to support better policies, we just don’t let them guide our decisions. These things seem wild even now!
Blackrock, the ginormous investor (the world’s largest asset manager) thinks that we’re in for quite a ride. First, let me start with a few quotes from their 2023 Global Outlook (highlights mine):
The Great Moderation, the four-decade period of largely stable activity and inflation, is behind us. The new regime of greater macro and market volatility is playing out.
A key feature of the new regime, we believe, is that we are in a world shaped by supply that involves brutal trade-offs. This regime is playing out and not going away
we see three long-term trends keeping production capacity constrained and cementing the new regime. First, aging populations mean continued worker shortages in many major economies. Second, persistent geopolitical tensions are rewiring globalization and supply chains. Third, the transition to net-zero carbon emissions is causing energy supply and demand mismatches.(…) Our bottom line: What worked in the past won’t work now.
What they’re saying here, couched in the sterile language of market analysis, is this. Allow me to paraphrase for dramatic effect:
The era of STABILITY is over, period. From now on, it’s going to be VOLATILE. This means everything we learned about how the world is supposed to work, won’t work anymore.
I agree. What makes me sad/mad is that for many issues, we know the solutions, or at least approaches for first steps towards a solution. But we’re so gridlocked politically, both domestically and globally, that we continue with the status quo, which is decidedly not stable but leading us straight off the cliff.
Over on Bellingcat, there’s news of a “Radar Interference Tracker: A New Open Source Tool to Locate Active Military Radar Systems” (via Bruce Sterling). Turns out, military radar can show up on commercial satellite imagery and you can light up where the sources are:
when the radar on the likes of a Patriot battery is turned on, Sentinel-1 picks up both the echo from its own pulse of radio waves, as well as a powerful blast of radio waves from the ground-based radar. This shows up as a stripe of interference perpendicular to the orbital path of the satellite. (…) Combining imagery from the two Sentinel-1 satellites (the constellation is comprised of two satellites) taken from different angles, the interference lines cross to form a distinctive “X-like” feature, considerably narrowing down the search area.
Built on top of this…
a tool called the Radar Interference Tracker (RIT) that allows anyone to easily search for Radio Frequency Interference (RFI) from military radars over huge areas and wide time scales.
Kinda nuts to think this is a thing. (The header image is a screenshot of the radar tracker.) File this under “loss of control” by state actors, whose activities become increasingly legible by a wider interested public and/or their adversaries.
It doesn’t take much fantasy to imagine this image data being fed more or less in real time into a machine learning tool to offer a live-ish map of these radar systems, as quickly as the satellite imagery becomes available. Imagine then this being hooked up to more localized small-scale / lower-budget drones to either get a clearer lock on the sources of those radar systems and/or to attack them directly. This seems only minimally speculative from today’s point of view. But I digress, military and intelligence matters are not my area of expertise, this is just me armchair-sci-fi-ing.
Anyway, welcome to the 21st century.
In-person events apparently have resumed in full, in a sense. Or maybe they’re split between in-person and remote, but hybrid events appear to have largely been abandoned after 3 years of pandemic-induced experimentation and/or Zoom fatigue.
But as Monique van Dusseldorp reminds us in her newsletter, events have a really important role to play (highlights mine):
Over the last 30 years, while the internet wiped away industries, established new ones, and drove innovation at breakneck speed, things changed. Events help drive these changes – at least, that’s what I think. They are where we get together to discuss what these changes mean and build the shared understanding needed for the creation of a new industry.
Monique is one of the best event curators I know of; she’s certainly the best I’ve ever had the opportunity and pleasure to work with, and I leared a lot from her over the years. If you have any interest whatsover in how to make events better, especially against the backdrop of new/digital/etc formats, you really want to subscribe to her newsletter (Substack, Web version).
Header image: Screenshot of ollielballinger.users.earthengine.app