Until I replace the large numbers of blogs now involved I suggest that you try using other search engines. I tested a few alternatives by inserting a few key words and they all seem to work fine. I am obviously upsetting someone out there. Sorry!
ABC Science claims that this might include objects as large as the width of a human hair. This massive quantum entanglement experiment could help solve a physics mystery
Written by science reporter Belinda Smith on 26 April 2018. I quote the item as follows.
“Physicists detected signs of entanglement between two vibrating ‘drumheads’, each around the width of a human hair.
Few ideas are as mind-bending as quantum entanglement: that two objects remain intimately intertwined, even if they’re at opposite ends of the universe.
- Particles are entangled if they are created at precisely the same time and point
- Entangling massive objects in a stable way has proved tricky for experimental physicists
- In a paper published this week, two vibrating ‘drumheads’, comprising trillions of atoms, were kept in an entangled state for 30 minutes
- Observing quantum states in massive objects could help reconcile quantum mechanics with Einstein’s theory of general relativity
To date, stable entangled objects created by scientists have been mostly limited to tiny particles. Think atoms or electrons.
But a team of physicists has for the first time kept two vibrating metal membranes, each made of trillions of atoms, entangled for a good half hour, according to a study published in Nature.
The membranes may seem infinitesimal to us, at around the width of the finest human hair, but they were massive on an atomic scale.
These kinds of experiments could help physicists reconcile two seemingly incompatible concepts in science — general relativity and quantum mechanics — said Matt Woolley, a physicist at the University of New South Wales Canberra and one of the report’s authors.
Get acquainted with entanglement
Particles are entangled if they are created at precisely the same time and point.
It’s reasonably straightforward to do in the lab, said Ben Buchler, a physicist at the Australian National University who was not involved in the study, and physicists can control their properties.
In his own research, for instance, he can split a photon — a tiny packet of energy that makes up light — into two.
These “offspring” each have half the energy of the original photon, but are entangled.
Imagine we have a couple of photons entangled in a way that means if one photon vibrates in a specific direction — say, up and down — the other will always vibrate side to side.
If you measure the vibration state of one entangled photon, you’ll immediately know the state of its twin, regardless of the distance between them.
Quantum particles can affect one another’s behaviour over vast distances.
But Dr Woolley wasn’t interested in anything as ephemeral as a photon.
He and his colleagues from Finland and the United States went big.
They made a pair of vibrating aluminium membranes, or “drumheads”, each 20 microns across.
“You can’t quite see them with the naked eye, but they’re pretty close,” Dr Woolley said.
These were connected to metal plates via a superconducting electrical circuit, which had no electrical resistance.
The whole shebang was cooled to a touch above absolute zero, or -273 degrees Celsius.
Microwaves coursing through the circuit entangled the drumheads. And the drumheads stayed entangled for 30 minutes.
Quantum mechanics: it’s all relative
These days, entanglement is accepted as a lynchpin of quantum mechanics, but it wasn’t always the case.
It takes more than entanglement to impress Albert Einstein.
Einstein wasn’t convinced by the idea, famously calling the concept “spooky action at a distance”.
But it’s this spooky action, which bestows absolute and immediate certainty about the properties of something next door or even half a world away, that forms a fundamental part of quantum communication.
There’s also teleportation — not in the science fiction sense of beaming matter from one place to another, but reproducing the quantum state of entangled objects, Dr Woolley said.
The drumhead experiment might also be used to find a way to reconcile quantum mechanics with Einstein’s theory of general relativity, which describes gravity as curved space-time, Dr Buchler said.
“We know, at least from a mathematical perspective, that general relativity is inconsistent with quantum mechanics,” he said.
“Everything we see in the sky seems to agree brilliantly with general relativity and everything we see that’s very small works brilliantly with quantum mechanics.
“And yet we know one or both of these theories are incomplete in some way, because we can’t stick them together mathematically.”
The real challenge, he added, is to design and carry out more experiments where general relativity and quantum mechanics are important at the same time — something that he believes might be plausible in the next decade.
Physicists might just then unravel the physics that dominated the first moments of the universe.
“At the very early universe, you had a very tiny object which exploded, and the entire universe was created,” Dr Buchler said.
“When it was very small, quantum mechanics must have been important. As it became larger, we describe it with general relativity.””
Is China Merely a Competitor of the U.S., or an Adversary or Even an Enemy?
The title to this blog is self explanatory. I think you will find the sub-links of special interest too. I quote the whole article as follows.
“China has become, over the past two decades, the planet’s second-most powerful nation after the United States. Booming economic growth has lifted millions of its citizens out of poverty and catapulted it to the world’s second-largest economy, while increased military spending has made it the second-largest military power (though its military spending, and nuclear stockpile, are still a small fraction of the U.S.’s).
That growth — in both economic and military power — has led U.S. officials to conclude that they must do more to counteract what they regard as China’s growing influence. President Obama, early in his administration, memorably vowed an “Asia pivot,” whereby the U.S. would devote fewer resources and less attention to the Middle East and more toward China’s growing power in its own region.
That led to some moderate escalation in adversarial relations between the two countries — including the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement (TPP) and other regional skirmishes — but nothing approaching direct military confrontation. President Trump, since taking office, has largely heaped praise on the Chinese government and its leader President Xi Jinping, siding with Xi over democracy protests in Hong Kong and even Beijing’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak.
But this pandemic has seriously escalated tensions between the two countries given the increasingly hostile rhetoric emanating from various sectors of the west, making it more urgent than ever to grapple with the complex relations between the two countries and how China ought to be perceived.
The question is far more complex than the usual efforts to create a new U.S. Enemy because numerous power centres in the U.S. and the west generally — particularly its oligarchs, Wall Street, and international capital — are not remotely hostile to Beijing but, quite the contrary, are both fond of it and dependent upon it. That’s why — unlike with other U.S. enemies such as Saddam Hussein, Fidel Castro, the Iranian government or Nicolas Maduro — one finds very powerful actors, from Bill Gates to Michael Bloomberg to the consulting giant McKinsey to Trump himself, defending Chinese officials and urging better relations with them.
That, in turn, reflects a critical reality about U.S./China relations that defies standard foreign policy frameworks: while hawkish, pro-war political elements in both parties speak of China as an adversary that must be confronted or even punished, the interests of powerful western financial actors — the Davos crowd — are inextricably linked with China, using Chinese markets and abusive Chinese labor practices to maximize their profit margins and, in the process, stripping away labor protections, liveable wages and jobs from industrial towns in the U.S. and throughout the west.
This youtube video complements this story.”
Is technology locking the world into perpetual suffering?
This ‘BBC Future’ article seems to be suggesting that it is and what might be ahead of us is a ‘grim fate’ that could be ‘worse than extinction’
The author of this story is Di Minardi and it was published on the 16th October 2020
“What would it take for a global totalitarian government to rise to power indefinitely? This nightmare scenario may be closer than first appears.
What would totalitarian governments of the past have looked like if they were never defeated? The Nazis operated with 20th Century technology and it still took a world war to stop them. How much more powerful – and permanent – could the Nazis have been if they had beat the US to the atomic bomb? Controlling the most advanced technology of the time could have solidified Nazi power and changed the course of history.
When we think of existential risks, events like nuclear war or asteroid impacts often come to mind. Yet there’s one future threat that is less well known – and while it doesn’t involve the extinction of our species, it could be just as bad.
It’s called the “world in chains” scenario, where, like the preceding thought experiment, a global totalitarian government uses a novel technology to lock a majority of the world into perpetual suffering. If it sounds grim, you’d be right. But is it likely? Researchers and philosophers are beginning to ponder how it might come about – and, more importantly, what we can do to avoid it…”
“…Existential risks (x-risks) are disastrous because they lock humanity into a single fate, like the permanent collapse of civilisation or the extinction of our species. These catastrophes can have natural causes, like an asteroid impact or a supervolcano, or be human-made from sources like nuclear war or climate change. Allowing one to happen would be “an abject end to the human story” and would let down the hundreds of generations that came before us, says Haydn Belfield, academic project manager at the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk at the University of Cambridge.
Toby Ord, a senior research fellow at the Future of Humanity Institute (FHI) at Oxford University, believes that the odds of an existential catastrophe happening this century from natural causes are less than one in 2,000, because humans have survived for 2,000 centuries without one. However, when he adds the probability of human-made disasters, Ord believes the chances increase to a startling one in six. He refers to this century as “the precipice” because the risk of losing our future has never been so high.
Researchers at the Center on Long-Term Risk, a non-profit research institute in London, have expanded upon x-risks with the even-more-chilling prospect of suffering risks. These “s-risks” are defined as “suffering on an astronomical scale, vastly exceeding all suffering that has existed on Earth so far.” In these scenarios, life continues for billions of people, but the quality is so low and the outlook so bleak that dying out would be preferable. In short: a future with negative value is worse than one with no value at all.
This is where the “world in chains” scenario comes in. If a malevolent group or government suddenly gained world-dominating power through technology, and there was nothing to stand in its way, it could lead to an extended period of abject suffering and subjugation. A 2017 report on existential risks from the Global Priorities Project, in conjunction with FHI and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, warned that “a long future under a particularly brutal global totalitarian state could arguably be worse than complete extinction”.
Though global totalitarianism is still a niche topic of study, researchers in the field of existential risk are increasingly turning their attention to its most likely cause: artificial intelligence.
In his “singleton hypothesis”, Nick Bostrom, director at Oxford’s FHI, has explained how a global government could form with AI or other powerful technologies – and why it might be impossible to overthrow. He writes that a world with “a single decision-making agency at the highest level” could occur if that agency “obtains a decisive lead through a technological breakthrough in artificial intelligence or molecular nanotechnology”. Once in charge, it would control advances in technology that prevent internal challenges, like surveillance or autonomous weapons, and, with this monopoly, remain perpetually stable.
If the singleton is totalitarian, life would be bleak. Even in the countries with the strictest regimes, news leaks in and out from other countries and people can escape. A global totalitarian rule would eliminate even these small seeds of hope. To be worse than extinction, “that would mean we feel absolutely no freedom, no privacy, no hope of escaping, no agency to control our lives at all”, says Tucker Davey, a writer at the Future of Life Institute in Massachusetts, which focuses on existential risk research.
“In totalitarian regimes of the past, [there was] so much paranoia and psychological suffering because you just have no idea if you’re going to get killed for saying the wrong thing,” he continues. “And now imagine that there’s not even a question, every single thing you say is being reported and being analysed.”
“We may not yet have the technologies to do this,” Ord said in a recent interview, “but it looks like the kinds of technologies we’re developing make that easier and easier. And it seems plausible that this may become possible at some time in the next 100 years.”
AI and authoritarianism
Though life under a global totalitarian government is still an unlikely and far-future scenario, AI is already enabling authoritarianism in some countries and strengthening infrastructure that could be seized by an opportunistic despot in others.
“We’ve seen sort of a reckoning with the shift from very utopian visions of what technology might bring to much more sobering realities that are, in some respects, already quite dystopian,” says Elsa Kania, an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for New American Security, a bipartisan non-profit that develops national security and defence policies.
In the past, surveillance required hundreds of thousands of people – one in every 100 citizens in East Germany was an informant – but now it can be done by technology. In the United States, the National Security Agency (NSA) collected hundreds of millions of American call and text records before they stopped domestic surveillance in 2019, and there are an estimated four to six million CCTV cameras across the United Kingdom. Eighteen of the 20 most surveilled cities in the world are in China, but London is the third. The difference between them lies less in the tech that the countries employ and more in how they use it.
What if the definition of what is illegal in the US and the UK expanded to include criticising the government or practising certain religions? The infrastructure is already in place to enforce it, and AI – which the NSA has already begun experimenting with – would enable agencies to search through our data faster than ever before.
In addition to enhancing surveillance, AI also underpins the growth of online misinformation, which is another tool of the authoritarian. AI-powered deep fakes, which can spread fabricated political messages, and algorithmic micro-targeting on social media are making propaganda more persuasive. This undermines our epistemic security – the ability to determine what is true and act on it – that democracies depend on.
“Over the last few years, we’ve seen the rise of filter bubbles and people getting shunted by various algorithms into believing various conspiracy theories, or even if they’re not conspiracy theories, into believing only parts of the truth,” says Belfield. “You can imagine things getting much worse, especially with deep fakes and things like that, until it’s increasingly harder for us to, as a society, decide these are the facts of the matter, this is what we have to do about it, and then take collective action.”
The Malicious Use of Artificial Intelligence report, written by Belfield and 25 authors from 14 institutions, forecasts that trends like these will expand existing threats to our political security and introduce new ones in the coming years. Still, Belfield says his work makes him hopeful and that positive trends, like more democratic discussions around AI and actions by policy-makers (for example, the EU considering pausing facial recognition in public places), keep him optimistic that we can avoid catastrophic fates.
Davey agrees. “We need to decide now what are acceptable and unacceptable uses of AI,” he says. “And we need to be careful about letting it control so much of our infrastructure. If we’re arming police with facial recognition and the federal government is collecting all of our data, that’s a bad start.”
If you remain sceptical that AI could offer such power, consider the world before nuclear weapons. Three years before the first nuclear chain reaction, even scientists trying to achieve it believed it was unlikely. Humanity, too, was unprepared for the nuclear breakthrough and teetered on the brink of “mutually assured destruction” before treaties and agreements guided the global proliferation of the deadly weapons without an existential catastrophe.
We can do the same with AI, but only if we combine the lessons of history with the foresight to prepare for this powerful technology. The world may not be able to stop totalitarian regimes like the Nazis rising again in the future – but we can avoid handing them the tools to extend their power indefinitely.””
The following story was written by a group of journalists employed by the New York Times (not from it’s newsroom). They talk about the role the President Trump has taken in “destroying” the GOP.
http://This Yahoo media article compliments this storyThis story was published on October 24th 2020. You might agree with me that it is not only USA politics that has dramatically changed over recent times but also the international geo-political system along with it too. Is this to our collective detriment?
“Destroyed” is perhaps too simplistic, though. It would be more precise to say that Mr. Trump accelerated his party’s demise, exposing the rot that has been eating at its core for decades and leaving it a hollowed-out shell devoid of ideas, values or integrity, committed solely to preserving its own power even at the expense of democratic norms, institutions and ideals.
Tomato, tomahto. However you characterize it, the Republican Party’s dissolution under Mr. Trump is bad for American democracy.
A healthy political system needs robust, competing parties to give citizens a choice of ideological, governing and policy visions. More specifically, center-right parties have long been crucial to the health of modern liberal democracies, according to the Harvard political scientist Daniel Ziblatt’s study of the emergence of democracy in Western Europe. Among other benefits, a strong center right can co-opt more palatable aspects of the far right, isolating and draining energy from the more radical elements that threaten to destabilize the system.
Today’s G.O.P. does not come close to serving this function. It has instead allowed itself to be co-opted and radicalized by Trumpism. Its ideology has been reduced to a slurry of paranoia, white grievance and authoritarian populism. Its governing vision is reactionary, a cross between obstructionism and owning the libs. Its policy agenda, as defined by the party platform, is whatever President Trump wants — which might not be so pathetic if Mr. Trump’s interests went beyond “Build a wall!”
“There is no philosophical underpinning for the Republican Party anymore,” the veteran strategist Reed Galen recently lamented to this board. A co-founder of the Lincoln Project, a political action committee run by current and former Republicans dedicated to defeating Mr. Trump and his enablers, Mr. Galen characterized the party as a self-serving, power-hungry gang.
With his dark gospel, the president has enthralled the Republican base, rendering other party leaders too afraid to stand up to him. But to stand with Mr. Trump requires a constant betrayal of one’s own integrity and values. This goes beyond the usual policy flip-flops — what happened to fiscal hawks anyway? — and political hypocrisy, though there have been plenty of both. Witness the scramble to fill a Supreme Court seat just weeks before Election Day by many of the same Senate Republicans who denied President Barack Obama his high court pick in 2016, claiming it would be wrong to fill a vacancy eight months out from that election.
Mr. Trump demands that his interests be placed above those of the nation. His presidency has been an extended exercise in defining deviancy down — and dragging the rest of his party down with him.
Having long preached “character” and “family values,” Republicans have given a pass to Mr. Trump’s personal degeneracy. The affairs, the hush money, the multiple accusations of assault and harassment, the gross boasts of grabbing unsuspecting women — none of it matters. White evangelicals remain especially faithful adherents, in large part because Mr. Trump has appointed around 200 judges to the federal bench.
For all their talk about revering the Constitution, Republicans have stood by, slack-jawed, in the face of the president’s assault on checks and balances. Mr. Trump has spurned the concept of congressional oversight of his office. After losing a budget fight and shutting down the government in 2018-19, he declared a phony national emergency at the southern border so he could siphon money from the Pentagon for his border wall. He put a hold on nearly $400 million in Senate-approved aid to Ukraine — a move that played a central role in his impeachment.
So much for Republicans’ Obama-era nattering about “executive overreach.”
Despite fetishizing “law and order,” Republicans have shrugged as Mr. Trump has maligned and politicized federal law enforcement, occasionally lending a hand. Impeachment offered the most searing example. Parroting the White House line that the entire process was illegitimate, the president’s enablers made clear they had his back no matter what. As Pete Wehner, who served as a speechwriter to the three previous Republican presidents, observed in The Atlantic: “Republicans, from beginning to end, sought not to ensure that justice be done or truth be revealed. Instead, they sought to ensure that Trump not be removed from office under any circumstances, defending him at all costs.”
The debasement goes beyond passive indulgence. Congressional bootlickers, channeling Mr. Trump’s rantings about the Deep State, have used their power to target those who dared to investigate him. Committee chairmen like Representative Devin Nunes and Senator Ron Johnson have conducted hearings aimed at smearing Mr. Trump’s political opponents and delegitimizing the special counsel’s Russia inquiry.
As head of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Mr. Johnson pushed a corruption investigation of Mr. Biden’s son Hunter that he bragged would expose the former vice president’s “unfitness for office.” Instead, he wasted taxpayer money producing an 87-page rehash of unsubstantiated claims reeking of a Russian disinformation campaign. Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, another Republican on the committee, criticized the inquiry as “a political exercise,” noting, “It’s not the legitimate role of government or Congress, or for taxpayer expense to be used in an effort to damage political opponents.”
Undeterred, last Sunday Mr. Johnson popped up on Fox News, engaging with the host over baseless rumors that the F.B.I. was investigating child pornography on a computer that allegedly had belonged to Hunter Biden. These vile claims are being peddled online by right-wing conspiracymongers, including Qanon.
Not that congressional toadies are the only offenders. A parade of administration officials — some of whom were well respected before their Trumpian tour — have stood by, or pitched in, as the president has denigrated the F.B.I., federal prosecutors, intelligence agencies and the courts. They have failed to prioritize election security because the topic makes Mr. Trump insecure about his win in 2016. They have pushed the limits of the law and human decency to advance Mr. Trump’s draconian immigration agenda.
Most horrifically, Republican leaders have stood by as the president has lied to the public about a pandemic that has already killed more than 220,000 Americans. They have watched him politicize masks, testing, the distribution of emergency equipment and pretty much everything else. Some echo his incendiary talk, fueling violence in their own communities. In the campaign’s closing weeks, as case numbers and hospitalizations climb and health officials warn of a rough winter, Mr. Trump is stepping up the attacks on his scientific advisers, deriding them as “idiots” and declaring Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top expert in infectious diseases, a “disaster.” Only a smattering of Republican officials has managed even a tepid defense of Dr. Fauci. Whether out of fear, fealty or willful ignorance, these so-called leaders are complicit in this national tragedy.
As Republican lawmakers grow increasingly panicked that Mr. Trump will lose re-election — possibly damaging their fortunes as well — some are scrambling to salvage their reputations by pretending they haven’t spent the past four years letting him run amok. In an Oct. 14 call with constituents, Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska gave a blistering assessment of the president’s failures and “deficient” values, from his misogyny to his calamitous handling of the pandemic to “the way he kisses dictators’ butts.” Mr. Sasse was less clear about why, the occasional targeted criticism notwithstanding, he has enabled these deficiencies for so long.
Senator John Cornyn of Texas, locked in his own tight re-election race, recently told the local media that he, too, has disagreed with Mr. Trump on numerous issues, including deficit spending, trade policy and his raiding of the defense budget. Mr. Cornyn said he opted to keep his opposition private rather than get into a public tiff with Mr. Trump “because, as I’ve observed, those usually don’t end too well.”
Profiles in courage these are not.
Mr. Trump’s corrosive influence on his party would fill a book. It has, in fact, filled several, as well as a slew of articles, social media posts and op-eds, written by conservatives both heartbroken and incensed over what has become of their party.
But many of these disillusioned Republicans also acknowledge that their team has been descending into white grievance, revanchism and know-nothing populism for decades. Mr. Trump just greased the slide. “He is the logical conclusion of what the Republican Party has become in the last 50 or so years,” the longtime party strategist Stuart Stevens asserts in his new book, “It Was All a Lie.”
The scars of Mr. Trump’s presidency will linger long after he leaves office. Some Republicans believe that, if those scars run only four years deep, rather than eight, their party can be nursed back to health. Others question whether there is anything left worth saving. Mr. Stevens’s prescription: “Burn it to the ground, and start over.””
In this BBC quotation Richard Fischer asks the question: “Are we living at the ‘hinge of history’?”
This item was published by the BBC on the 24th September 2020. I think that you will find this item deeply thought provoking in these troubled times.
“Could right now be the most influential time ever? Richard Fisher looks at the case for and against – and why it matters.
What is the best word to describe our present moment? You might be tempted to reach for “unprecedented”, or perhaps “extraordinary”.
But here’s another adjective for our times that you may not have heard before: “hingey”.
It may not be a particularly elegant term, but it describes a potentially profound idea: that we may be living through the most influential period of time ever. And it’s about far more than the Covid-19 pandemic and politics of 2020. Leading philosophers and researchers are debating whether the events that occur in our century could shape the fate of our species over the next thousands if not millions of years. The “hinge of history” hypothesis proposes that we are, right now, at a turning point. Is this really plausible?
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The idea that those alive today are uniquely influential can be traced back several years to the philosopher Derek Parfit. “We live during the hinge of history,” he wrote in his book On What Matters. “Given the scientific and technological discoveries of the last two centuries, the world has never changed as fast. We shall soon have even greater powers to transform, not only our surroundings, but ourselves and our successors.”
The hinge of history hypothesis has been gaining fresh attention in recent months, however, as academics attempt to address the question in a more systematic way. It began last year when the philosopher Will MacAskill of Oxford University posted an in-depth analysis of the hypothesis on a popular forum dedicated to effective altruism, a movement that aims to apply reason and evidence to do the most good. It sparked more than 100 comments from other scholars approaching the question from their own angle, not to mention in-depth podcasts and articles, so MacAskill published a more formal version, as a book chapter in honour of Parfit.
As Vox Future Perfect’s Kelsey Piper wrote at the time, the hinge of history debate is more than an abstract philosophical discussion: the underlying goal is to identify what our societies should prioritise to ensure the long-term future of our species.
To understand why, let’s start by looking at the arguments that support the present moment’s “hingeyness” (though MacAskill now prefers the term “influentialness”, as it sounds less flippant).
First, there’s the “time of perils” view. In recent years, support has grown for the idea that we live at a time of unusually high risk of self-annihilation and long-term damage to the planet. As the UK’s Astronomer Royal Martin Rees puts it: “Our Earth has existed for 45 million centuries, but this century is special: it’s the first when one species – ours – has the planet’s future in its hands.” For the first time, we have the ability to irreversibly degrade the biosphere, or misdirect technology to cause a catastrophic setback to civilisation, says Rees, who co-founded the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk at the University of Cambridge.
Those destructive powers are outstripping our wisdom, according to Toby Ord – one of MacAskill’s colleagues at Oxford – who makes the case for reducing existential risk in his recent book The Precipice. The title of Ord’s book is an allegory for where we stand: on a path on the edge of a precipice, where one foot wrong could spell disaster. From this vertiginous point, we can see the green and pleasant lands of the destination ahead of us – a flourishing far future – but first we must navigate a time of unusual danger. Ord put the odds of extinction this century to be as high as one in six.
In Ord’s view, what makes our time particularly hingey is that we have created threats that our ancestors never had to face, such as nuclear war or engineered killer pathogens. Meanwhile, we are doing so little to prevent these civilisation-ending events. The UN Biological Weapons Convention, which is a global ban on developing bio-weapons like a super-coronavirus, has a smaller budget than an average McDonald’s restaurant. And collectively the world spends more on ice cream than we do on preventing technologies that could end everything about our way of life.
The idea that we are at a treacherous turning point is also the theme of a second argument supporting the hinge of history hypothesis. According to a number of serious researchers, there is the chance that the 21st Century will see the arrival of sophisticated artificial general intelligence that could quickly evolve into a superintelligence. They argue that how we handle that transition could determine the entire future of civilisation, through a kind of “lock-in”.
The all-powerful superintelligence itself could determine humanity’s fate for all time, based on whatever goals and needs it has, but these researchers propose other potential scenarios too. Civilisation’s future could also be shaped by whoever controls the AI first, which might be a single force for good who directs it for the benefit of everyone, or a malevolent government who chooses to use that power to subjugate all dissent.
Not everyone subscribes to AI’s long-term influence. But those who do counter that even if you believe there is only a small chance of the worst-case AI scenarios happening, the fact that they could be so influential for such a very long time could make the coming decades more important than any in human history. For that reason, many researchers and effective altruists have decided to dedicate their careers to AI safety and ethics.
You could also assemble other evidence to support the hinge of history hypothesis. For example, Luke Kemp of the University of Cambridge points out that human-caused climate change and environmental degradation in this century could reach far into the future. “The most pivotal transformation so far in human history was the advent of the Holocene, which allowed for the agricultural revolution,” says Kemp. “Human societies appear to be intimately adapted to a narrow climatic envelope. This is the century in which we will perform an unprecedented and dangerous geological experiment and perhaps irreversibly push ourselves well outside of the climate niche, or pull back from the abyss.” (Though it should be noted that Kemp himself is sceptical about the hypothesis and its expedience.)
You might also argue that civilisation’s relative youth makes us particularly influential. We’re only 10,000 years or so into human history, and a case could be made that earlier generations have a greater ability to lock changes, values and motivations that persist for later generations. We might think of civilisation today as a child who must carry both formative traits and scars for the rest of their lives.
Though as we’ll see, our relative youth could also be used to argue the opposite. And this also raises an obvious question: surely, then, the first humans lived at the most influential time? After all, a few wrong steps in the Palaeocene, or at the dawn of the agricultural revolution, and our civilisation would never have come into existence.
Perhaps, but MacAskill suggests that while many moments in human history were pivotal, they were not necessarily influential. Hunter-gatherers, for example, lacked the necessary agency to sit at the hinge, because they had no knowledge that they could shape the far future, nor the resources to choose a different path if they did. Influence, under MacAskill’s definition, involves an awareness and ability to choose one of myriad paths.
Why it matters
This specific definition of influentialness leads on to why MacAskill and others are interested in the question in the first place. As a philosopher who thinks about the far future, MacAskill and others see the hinge of history hypothesis as more than a theoretical question to satisfy curiosity. Finding answers affects how much resources and time they believe that civilisation should spend on near-term versus longer-term problems.
To give this a more personal framing, if you believed that the next day of your life would be the most influential so far – taking a crucial exam or marrying a life-partner, for instance – then you’d put a lot of time and effort into it straight away. If, however, you believed the most influential day of your life was decades away, or you didn’t know what the day would be, you might focus on other priorities first.
MacAskill is one of the founders of effective altruism, and has focused his career on finding ways to do the most good over the long-term. If an effective altruist accepted that we are at the hingiest time now, then it might suggest devoting a large proportion of their time and money to reducing existential risk urgently, for example – and indeed, many have.
If, however, that altruist believed that the hingiest time was centuries away, then they might pivot to other ways to do good over the long-term, such as investing money to help their descendants. A philanthropist, for example, who invested at a 5% rate of return could see their resources grow by 17,000 times after 200 years, according to MacAskill.
Some might question this assumption about the benefits of long-term investment, given that societal collapses throughout history have wiped out funds. While others might suggest that money would be best spent on big present-day problems like poverty. But the essential point for effective altruists is that nailing down hingeyness could at least help to inform how we might maximise well-being as a species and ensure we flourish in the future.
So, if those are some of the arguments for the hinge of history hypothesis, and the reasons why it matters, what are the arguments against?
The simplest comes down to fairly straightforward odds. Probability-wise, it’s just unlikely.
If we were to navigate past this century and reach the average lifespan of a mammalian species, then we’re talking about humanity lasting at least one million years, in which we could potentially spread to the stars and settle other planets. As I wrote on BBC Future last year, there are potentially a vast number of people ahead of us, yet to born. Even if we look at only the next 50,000 years, the scale of future generations could be enormous. If the birth rate over that period stayed the same as it has been in the 21st Century, the unborn would be potentially more than 62 times the number of humans that have ever lived, around 6.75 trillion people.
Given the astronomical number of people yet to exist, says MacAskill, it would be surprising if our tiny fraction of that population happens to be the most influential. These future people will likely (hopefully) also be more morally and scientifically enlightened than we are today, and therefore could potentially do even more to influence the future in ways we can’t yet conceive of.
It’s not only unlikely, MacAskill continues, it’s also possibly “fishy”. Those who conclude we must live at the hinge of history might be deploying hidden faulty reasoning; an unconscious stacking of the deck. What if cognitive biases are at play, for example? Firstly, there’s salience bias, which makes visible, present-day events seem more important than they actually are. Living in the 1980s, for example, you might have thought that nanotechnology was the greatest risk to humanity, but the much-feared “gray goo” theory turned out to be over-hyped.
Secondly, there’s potential for confirmation bias: if you believe that existential risks deserve more attention (as all the researchers in this article do), then you might subconsciously marshal arguments that support that conclusion.
“If a chain of reasoning leads us to the conclusion that we’re living at the most influential time ever, we should think it more likely that our reasoning has gone wrong than that the conclusion really is true,” writes MacAskill.
For these reasons, among others, MacAskill concludes that we are probably not living at the most influential time. There may be compelling arguments for thinking we live in an unusually hingey moment compared with other periods, he suggests, but because of the potentially long, long future of civilisation that could lie ahead, the actual hinge of history is most likely yet to come.
The upside of no hinge
While it might seem deflating to conclude that we are probably not the most important people at the most important time, it could be a good thing. If you believe the “time of perils” view, then the next century will be especially dangerous to live through, potentially requiring significant sacrifices to ensure our species persists. And as Kemp points out, history suggests that when fears are high that a future utopia is at stake, unpleasant things are sometimes justified in the name of protecting it.
“States have a long history of imposing draconian measures to respond to perceived threats, and the greater the threat the more severe the emergency powers,” he says. For example, some researchers who wish to prevent the rise of malevolent AI or catastrophic technologies have argued we may need ubiquitous global surveillance of every living person, at all times.
But if life at the hinge requires sacrifices, that does not mean that life at other times can be laissez-faire. It doesn’t absolve us of all responsibility to the future. This century we could still do remarkable damage, and it needn’t be as catastrophic as a species-ending event. Over the past century, we have found myriad new ways to leave malignant heirlooms for our descendants, from carbon in the atmosphere to plastic in the ocean to nuclear waste beneath the ground.
So, while we do not know if our time will be the most influential or not, we can say with more certainty that we have increasing power to shape the lives and well-being of billions of people living tomorrow – for better and for worse. It will be for future historians to judge how wisely we used that influence.”
‘Coffin confessor’ Bill Edgar paid to gatecrash Queensland funerals and speak up for the dead
Written by Annie Gaffney and Sally Rafferty on the 3rd of September 2020 for the ABC. See this link
If you missed this ABC item you may find the concept interesting to consider in your life
“Speaking ill of the living: Bill Edgar drops secrets of the newly departed at their funerals.
Bill Edgar has, in his own words, “no respect for the living”. Instead, his loyalty is to the newly departed clients who hire Mr Edgar — known as “the coffin confessor” — to carry out their wishes from beyond the grave.
• Coffin confessor reveals juicy secrets of the dead for a flat fee of $10,000
• Mr Edgar has “crashed” 22 funerals and graveside services on behalf of clients
• His unusual job is set to be played out on screen in a TV series or movie
Mr Edgar runs a business in which, for $10,000, he is engaged by people “knocking on death’s door” to go to their funerals or gravesides and reveal the secrets they want their loved ones to know.
“They’ve got to have a voice and I lend my voice for them,” Mr Edgar said.
Mr Edgar, a Gold Coast private investigator, said the idea for his graveside hustle came when he was working for a terminally ill man.
“We got on to the topic of dying and death and he said he’d like to do something,” Mr Edgar said.
“I said, ‘Well, I could always crash your funeral for you’,” and a few weeks later the man called and took Mr Edgar up on his offer and a business was born.
In almost two years he has “crashed” 22 funerals and graveside events, spilling the tightly-held secrets of his clients who pay a flat fee of $10,000 for his service.
‘Mourners keen to know’ secrets
Dressed in tailored pants and vest, Mr Edgar said he was very respectful in the way he carried out his job.
“I actually blend in with the mourners,” he said. “I sit with the family and friends. I sit in the middle with everybody.”
In the case of his very first client Mr Edgar said he was instructed to interrupt the man’s best friend when he was delivering the eulogy.
“I was to tell the best mate to sit down and shut up,” he said.
“He knew that he’d [the best mate] been trying to have an affair with his wife.
Mr Edgar says he carries out his contracted duties firmly but with respect.
“I also had to ask three mourners to stand up and to please leave the service and if they didn’t I was to escort them out.
“My client didn’t want them at his funeral and, like he said, it is his funeral and he wants to leave how he wanted to leave, not on somebody else’s terms.”
Despite the confronting nature of his job, Mr Edgar said “once you get the crowd on your side, you’re pretty right” because mourners were keen to know what was left unsaid.
He said some clients never had the opportunity to reveal their secrets while they were alive.
“When people are knocking on death’s door, some of them are alone for six-to-12 months before they die and they never see anybody,” he said.
“The worst thing of all is the ones they thought loved them the most become the biggest vultures in their life.”
He said his most confronting job was telling mourners at a bikie’s funeral that his client was gay and his lover was in the audience.
“They took offence to it but there was a number there that already knew,” Mr Edgar said.
‘I told the priest to sit down’
Mr Edgar said his arrogance was what made his job possible.
“I have been to a church service since where I actually had to ask the priest to sit down and be quiet because my client didn’t want a religious service,” he said.
“He was quite offended but at the same time he understood.”
Mr Edgar protects himself legally by recording his client’s confession and also provides them with a disclosure statement.
“Especially if I’m asked to go into a premises that the person used to own and get rid of some items that they don’t want their kids to find,” he said.
“So it could be sexual items, it could be pornography, it could be money, drugs, guns … the instructions are to basically destroy everything.”
Mr Edgar said, while some were “dismayed and disappointed” by his graveside revelations, many were often well-received.
“Most people are happy because they’ve heard from the actual person that they love,” he said.
The unusual nature of Mr Edgar’s job has caught the eye of the entertainment industry and he has signed a deal for it to be made into a movie or drama series.
He said his role could be played by either a man or a woman but “somebody with the voice of Russell Crowe would be perfect”.
‘I speak, or the deceased comes with me’
When priests and funeral directors have tried to prevent Mr Edgar from delivering his secrets, he has not let that stop him delivering on his contract with the deceased.
“I say, ‘Well, this is the contract I have with my client, if it doesn’t go ahead I take my client with me’,” he said.
“That means that I’ve arranged previously to have the body of my client taken away and cremated or buried at a private ceremony.”
Because ultimately , Mr Edgar said, his job was to respect his client’s wishes.
“How many funerals have you been to and you’ve listened to absolute crap?” he said.
“If you hear something at a funeral and you don’t like it, stand up and say something — become your own confessor.”
Dangers in ‘bombshells from the grave’
Psychologist Shona Innes said enlisting the help of a person like Mr Edgar was the ultimate avoidance.
“It’s certainly not healthy,” she said.
“I think it’s better to resolve these things while you are alive.”
Ms Innes said paying a stranger to “drop a bombshell ” from the grave then leave a grieving family to deal with it could be very dangerous.
“Grief is complex enough but something like this can complicate the grieving process for family and friends, she said.
“How ( is he) taking care of these people?””
In this new blog I introduce you to important new stories that you may never have heard about or seriously considered before. You will notice that I put emphasis on subjects relating to international politics and the potential for war. This includes the politics behind the development of new highly destructive international weaponry. You will find a few of these links are a little dated but I do not feel that this is detracts from their potential reader interest. I intend to update this list from time to time.
Begin your reading experience here:
I care to introduce you to Richard Feynman
Feynman is arguably one of the most distinguished physicist of the 20th century.
Richard Feynman died in 1988 and during his lifetime he gained a reputation of spelling his scientific ideas out exactly as he saw them. He dared to be different and in doing so was open to freely discussing conceptual science. If you are open minded to new ideas in physics I think that you will enjoy listening to what Feynman has to say in this dated Horizon video. This includes his pleasure of finding things out.
I think that you will find this touching presentation is appropriate to consider in our troubling times