Current affairs

Aug 12th 2023
EXTRACT: "Around the world, supply is struggling to keep up with demand. Inflation remains stubbornly high, despite aggressive interest-rate hikes. The global workforce is aging rapidly. Labor shortages are ubiquitous and persistent. These are just some of the forces behind the productivity challenge facing the global economy. And it has become increasingly clear that we must harness artificial intelligence to address that challenge."
Aug 2nd 2023
EXTRACTS: "What explains the tenacity of Trump’s support? The force of his arguments is unlikely to be the key, because he makes few coherent arguments." ---- "The Trumpist bubble is deeply mired in pessimism. Some 89% of the GOP think the US is in steep decline, ...." ---- "There are several reasons for popular anxiety. Many American industrial workers feel left behind in a global economy where cheaper labor is sought overseas." --- "Trump has been a master at manipulating these conspiratorial anxieties," ---- "What is perhaps most important is that Trump, despite his success in stacking the Supreme Court with religious radicals, has not captured most of the elites, as Hitler did. "
Jul 19th 2023
EXTRACTS: "Little wonder then that Crimea has been heavily militarised since Russia’s illegal annexation of the peninsula in March 2014 – or that Russian troops there have increasingly been threatened by different anti-Putin partisan groups. These include both Russian volunteers and indigenous Crimean Tatars who have become more active since the start of the Ukrainian counteroffensive."
Jul 19th 2023
EXTRACT: "Prigozhin’s fighters would not have been able to travel almost a thousand kilometers (621 miles) within Russian territory in less than a day without help from members of Putin’s inner circle or the military. Rumors are swirling that the billionaire brothers Yuri and Mikhail Kovalchuk may have played a role. The Kovalchuks, close associates of Putin, reportedly share Prigozhin’s belief that Russia has not been forceful enough in the war or in its broader confrontation with the West. Another possible collaborator is General Sergei Surovikin. Like Prigozhin, Surovikin has reportedly advocated a far more brutal war effort than Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu seems willing to conduct. Since the mutiny, he has not been seen in public, and is said to be “resting.” "
Jul 19th 2023
EXTRACTS:" While Western experts continue to view Russia as a modern state, they overlook the fact that Putin’s cronies, who represent the mingling of the security services – particularly the FSB, the successor to the Soviet-era KGB – and organized crime, control most state functions as their private domains." .... "The existence of multiple private armies will make these power games more destabilizing. As a commentator on RIA Novosti, Russia’s official news agency, put it after documenting the private armies of several oil companies: “[W]e are on the verge of a major increase in corporate and other paramilitary structures, as well as major changes in the very approach to the use of military force.” Against this backdrop, the Russian army has become another gang vying for power and property. But as the Kremlin’s grip on power slips, Russia’s generals will likely organize a putsch against Putin and his KGB/FSB cronies – the army’s historical rival."
Jul 16th 2023
EXTRACTS: "The fuel inside nuclear reactors needs continuous, active cooling for many months after a reactor shutdown" ..... "The world saw in dramatic fashion in Fukushima, Japan, in 2011 what can happen when continuous, active cooling of nuclear reactors is disrupted. More than 70% of the total radioactivity at the Fukushima power plant was in the spent fuel ponds" .... "In his classic 1981 book Nuclear Radiation in Warfare, Nobel Peace Prize-winning physicist Joseph Rotblat documented how 'in a pressurised water reactor, the meltdown of the core could occur within less than one minute after the loss of coolant'. The radioactivity released from damaged spent fuel ponds could be even greater than from a meltdown at the reactor itself, he wrote. His study makes clear that a military attack on a reactor or spent fuel pond could release more radioactivity – and longer-lasting radioactivity – than even a large (megaton range) nuclear weapon."
Jul 6th 2023
EXTRACT: "The closer we get to the endgame, the greater the risk that the Kremlin will resort to some irrational act like ordering the use of a nuclear weapon. Prigozhin’s revolt offers a preview of the chaos that awaits. Almost anything is conceivable now, from the disintegration of the Russian Federation to the rise of another ultra-nationalist regime with neo-czarist dreams of imperial restoration. Like Putin’s Russia, this one would remain locked in the past, far removed from any prospect of social, political, or economic modernization. It would pose a permanent threat to Europe’s eastern flank, and to global stability more broadly. We will have to arm ourselves against it, and our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will most likely have to do the same."
Jun 27th 2023
EXTRACT: "So, who might seize the throne? Two obvious possibilities are Nikolai Patrushev, the secretary of Russia’s Security Council, and his son Dmitry, the minister of agriculture. Another is Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin, who deliberately appeared on television hard at work during the crisis, while Putin reportedly flew to safety in Valdai, far from the Kremlin. Then there is Dyumin, as well as Moscow’s Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, who controls his own powerful armed force."
Jun 25th 2023
EXTRACT: "......because Prigozhin and his men enjoy the supportof many Russians. For them, Prigozhin is a hero, not a traitor, because he is one of the only public figures who dares to speak the truth about the Kremlin’s incompetent management of the war. And they also see in him a fatherly commander standing up for the soldiers whose lives are being thrown away needlessly by Putin’s clumsy, corrupt generals. People who think this way may well make up a very large part of Russian society. Whether Prigozhin ultimately is imprisoned, executed, or victorious, he will remain an icon for them."
Jun 25th 2023
EXTRACT: "While it might be tempting to conclude that the gut microbes identified as being associated with signs of preclinical Alzheimer’s are also contributing to developing the disease, the study does not provide any evidence of a cause-and-effect relationship. However, if a connection can be established, it opens up an exciting possibility that future treatments for Alzheimer’s might target the microbes in our gut."
Jun 18th 2023
EXTRACT: "When it comes to sustainability, however, US fiscal policy receives a low score. Amid the short-term fluctuations, it is often easy to lose sight of the long-term trajectory. Public debt, as a share of GDP, peaked at the end of World War II and then gradually declined until the Reagan tax cuts of the 1980s, which led to record deficits. Since then, the debt-to-GDP ratio has steadily risen, almost reaching its 1946 record in 2020. Only during the period 1996-2000, under President Bill Clinton, did this trend temporarily reverse."
Jun 14th 2023
EXTRACT: "It is by no means clear that the latest banking crisis has run its course. There are concerns about the so-called shadow banking system, largely unregulated financial institutions that now make up half of all global financial assets. For example, in the US many people invest in money market funds, which pay higher interest than banks, but provide no deposit insurance."
Jun 9th 2023
EXTRACT: "Given the scale of the ECB’s bond holdings, however, its approach to quantitative tightening (QT) seems downright homeopathic. At the current rate, bringing the asset-purchase program to zero will take roughly 15 years (and this does not even account for the fact that the ECB continues to reinvest all maturing assets purchased under the Pandemic Emergency Purchase Program). "
Jun 9th 2023
EXTRACT: "Hardly a week goes by without various pioneers in artificial intelligence issuing dire warnings about the technology that they introduced to the world." ---- " I have my doubts. Since the start of my professional life in the 1980s (and of course for much longer), technological progress has repeatedly been held up as a major threat to jobs in key industries such as automobile manufacturing. Yet...."
May 31st 2023
EXTRACT: "In discussions about the implications of artificial intelligence (AI), someone almost always evokes the ancient Greek myth of Pandora’s box. In the modern fairytale version of the story, Pandora is depicted as a tragically curious young woman who opens a sealed urn and inadvertently releases eternal misery on humankind. Like the genie that has escaped the bottle, the horse that has fled the barn, and the train that has left the station, the myth has become a cliché. And yet the actual story of Pandora is far more apropos to debates about AI and machine learning than many realize. What it shows is that it is better to listen to “Prometheans” who are concerned about humanity’s future than “Epimetheans” who are easily dazzled by the prospect of short-term gains. One of the oldest Greek myths, the story of Pandora was first recorded more than 2,500 years ago, in the time of Homer. In the original telling, Pandora was not some innocent girl who succumbed to the temptation to open a forbidden jar. Rather, as the poet Hesiod tells us, Pandora was “made, not born.” Having been commissioned by all-powerful Zeus and designed to his cruel specifications by Hephaestus, the god of invention, Pandora was a lifelike android created to look like a bewitching maiden. Her purpose was to entrap mortals as a manifestation of kalos kakon: “evil hidden in beauty.”
May 31st 2023
EXTRACT: "Specifically, many believe that the arrival of artificial general intelligence (AGI) – an AI that can teach itself to perform any cognitive task that humans can do – will pose an existential threat to humanity. A carelessly designed AGI (or one governed by unknown “black box” processes) could carry out its tasks in ways that compromise fundamental elements of our humanity. After that, what it means to be human could come to be mediated by AGI."
May 29th 2023
EXTRACT: "In his 2018 book Destined For War, political scientist Graham Allison observes that the US and China are headed toward what he called the “Thucydides’ Trap,” a reference to the ancient Greek historian’s account of Sparta’s efforts to suppress the rise of Athens, which ultimately culminated in the Peloponnesian War. A better analogy, however, is the message sent by the Athenians to the inhabitants of the besieged island of Melos before executing the men and enslaving the women and children: “The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must." ---- Allowing China and other authoritarian countries to shape the rules would result in a world order based solely on this “realist” principle. It is a nightmare scenario that the G7 countries and other liberal democracies must strive to prevent. ---- China’s assertions about the decline of the West reveal an underlying anxiety. After all, if liberal democracy is failing, why do Chinese officials consistently express their fear of it? The fact that leaders of the Communist Party of China have instructed rank-and-file members to engage in an “intense struggle” against liberal-democratic values indicates that they view open societies as an existential threat."
May 28th 2023
EXTRACTS: "Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) decreed that generative AI content must “embody core socialist values and must not contain any content that subverts state power, advocates the overthrow of the socialist system, incites splitting the country or undermines national unity.' ” .... "This implies that the harder the CAC tries to control ChatGPT content, the smaller the resulting output of chatbot-generated Chinese intelligence will be – yet another constraint on the AI intellectual revolution in China. Unsurprisingly, the early returns on China’s generative-AI efforts have been disappointing."
May 20th 2023
EXTRACTS: "Cognitive dissonance occurs when one’s beliefs and actions conflict with each other." .... "This conflict might constrain people from acquiring new information that will increase the existing dissonance" .... "if someone commits wholeheartedly to Trump, they may well experience dissonance as they watch the news from that Manhattan courthouse. But they don’t necessarily stop supporting him. Instead, they might seek yet more information about the “deep state” and how it is persecuting Trump, or preach more about his positive attributes and the witch hunt against him." .... " If so, we can expect to see more conspiracy theories and more proselytising from the hardcore supporters going into 2024 and beyond. Donald Trump may not be finished just yet."
May 11th 2023
EXTRACT: "....the US possesses advantages in developing large language models (LLMs). It benefits from close business-university collaboration, lubricated by a deep-pocketed venture-capital industry. It is no coincidence that ChatGPT came out of the US, and out of Greater Silicon Valley in particular." .... "Developing countries would seem to be at a significant disadvantage in this AI arms race and are at risk of losing their competitive advantage: abundant low-cost labor. Yet AI also holds out the promise of benefits for these countries." .... " however, economic development depends on human development – that is, on the accumulation of human capital. Where developing countries lack the resources, financial and otherwise, to increase significantly their spending on traditional modes of education, AI holds out hope for providing what is missing."

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