Just a few decades ago it was unthinkable that a computer could ever be as smart as a human. But in 1996, the super-computer Deep Blue beat world champion Gary Kasparov in chess, and in early 2017 Google’s AlphaGo defeated the best human player in Go. In his fascinating new book Homo Deus, Yuval Harari argues that the combination of big data and self-improving algorithms will soon outsmart humans entirely and make human decision-making obsolete. Even today, it just takes 150 Facebook likes for psychometrics software such as Cambridge Analyticato know your needs, fears and hopes better than your parents do, and just over 300 likes for such software to know you better than you know yourself. All based on analyzing your likes against Millions of other likes and profiles. No wonder the Trump campaign made effective use of that software last year to better target their voters. But this is just the beginning: Recently, researchers from Wits University in Johannesburg, South Africa, were able for the first time to directly link a human brain to the Internet – creating the first ever ‘Brainternet’. Based on increased connectivity, smart algorithms may soon be able to monitor and analyze all our biological functions, thoughts, interactions, and purchases, and know much better what we want and what makes us happy than we do. Harari argues that in the end humans may delegate all important decisions – choices of careers, partners and places to live – to algorithms that exceed our brain capacity manifold. So will big data algorithms eventually control our lives?
Studies have also found that the rich exert far more influence over government than the rest of us. This imbalance means that wealthy people who do something about inequality may have more power to make an impact than everybody else. As scholars of social change, we wanted to learn more about how a small number of affluent Americans choose to spend their own time, clout and money fighting inequality.
Greetings, dear Americans! As our new President appears and promises to change this system and make America great again, it’s time we look at one of the things he could do to really make America great, and it’s in his specialty, business.
One of the big themes in the current presidential race is how decades of free trade have dealt a heavy blow to the American worker as millions of jobs were shipped overseas to take advantage of cheap labor.
It’s approaching three years since hurricane Sandy killed over 230 people in 8 countries, and wreaked havoc on the New York-New Jersey region – and put climate adaptation firmly on the national agenda. Sandy, which disrupted at least 450,000 businesses in New York and New Jersey, illustrated how cascading impacts not only damage property but also disrupt businesses for extended periods of time, due to the interaction of power and communication outages, infrastructure damage, and supply chain disruptions. These complex interactions were not adequately understood or anticipated. The reinsurance company Munich Re has estimated insured losses at $25 billion and total losses of at least $50 billion in the US from Sandy. Looking to the future, the 2011 Mass Climate Adaptation report notes that: “Sea level rise of 0.65 meters (26 inches) in Boston by 2050 could damage assets worth an estimated $463 billion”. Cities and states have begun to devote significant resources to planning for sea level rise, more frequent and intense storms, and more intense heat and drought. In one design-for-climate-change scenario, Boston would be transformed into an American Venice.
Many scholars around the world are getting ready for the 2016 conference season. In our digital age, where email, texting and video chat have become the primary means of communication, conferences remain an important nexus for face-to-face scholarly exchange, networking, career-making and innovation. Being located in Boston, but having important networks in Europe (and being a passionate traveler), I typically attend at least three conferences in the U.S., Europe or elsewhere every year. Whereas I take frequent conferencing for granted, I know that many of my colleagues, especially from the Southern Hemisphere, for example Brazil and South Africa, barely make it to one conference per year and often skip the conference season entirely. By comparison, Indian and Chinese scholars for example increasingly participate in the global conference circuit. What explains this divide? And what can be done to counter it?